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Though it seems like almost a lifetime ago, there was actually a stretch of time less than five years ago in which random clown sightings across the U.S. were a cause of legitimate concern. It’s a topic that the makers of the horror film Behind the Sightings attempt to cover in a “documentary” format.

Co-writer and director Tony Cadwell announced back in 2017 his plans to release the horror tale, and in a subsequent interview stated its delay was based on “family members” of the deceased being unhappy with the footage he had pulled together. In this post-Blair Witch era, it’s fairly easy to check the veracity of whether this film is indeed a documentary or not, so I will let savvy viewers make up their minds as to whether the filmmaker was indeed in possession of video of the murders of “Todd and Jessica Smith” or not. Instead, let’s focus on how engaging the finished film is for audiences.

It had been reported that the “Great Clown Scare of 2016” was indeed a viral marketing campaign. It’s not certain whether Cadwell had a hand in it or not, but if so, he should be commended for the amount of coverage devoted to it. Vox released an article and accompanying video on the phenomenon, compiling enough news reports and images to give the most rational person coulrophobia. Schools closed, shots were fired, clown-hunting mobs took to the streets, and stories spread like wildfire over social media as the country (and even spots overseas) were in the grips of a white-gloved clown-demic. Not since the makers of The Blair Witch Project posting false news reports has planting seeds of fear harvested such a healthy crop. It was an effective, lurid ploy that set the nation abuzz with Pennywise-like poseurs across the country.

“…a young couple attempting to document the then-current clown craze.”

If Behind the Sightings had been released on the heels of this trend five years ago, I am not sure it would have been any more believable, but it would have better capitalized on the zeitgeist. In the years since, we’ve already been introduced to Wrinkles the ClownGags the ClownTerrifier, and of course, two chapters of It (among countless other lower-tier clown horror flicks).

The opening scrawl states we are witnessing recovered footage. After we watch a few homicidal clown attacks, it settles into the story of Todd and Jessica Smith, a young couple attempting to document the then-current clown craze. There’s some time devoted to their relationship (they bicker, she finds out she is pregnant), all the while their cameras keep running, and they remain on the hunt. The issue here is that none of these plot developments lead to any substance of the overall story.

There are some decent shots throughout, and Cadwell manages to give Behind the Sightings a professional sheen throughout. His eye for staging “accidental” shots is quite sharp, similar to those found in Paranormal Activity 3. But then the film descends into a chase through the woods at night, complete with all the bouncy footage, screaming, and shouting that formulaically accompany. This conclusion is too shaky and underlit to follow properly.

If the film had actually culled some of the news footage the clown panic had caused, it would have given the project a bit more authenticity and perhaps some urgency. Hell, even though 2016 was a notable year for a plague of grease-painted pests, clown panics have roots dating back to 1981 (and even further, if you include the ultimate killer clown, John Wayne Gacy). Instead, Behind the Sightings relies on its own footage and the threadbare story of its leads and suffers for that decision. Despite its effective cinematography and polished feel, its lack of solid story and character development lets it float away like an unattended balloon.

Behind the Sightings (2021)

Directed: Tony Cadwell

Written: Norman Alston, Tony Cadwell

Starring: Jessica Smith, Todd Smith, etc.

Movie score: 4/10

Behind the Sightings Image

"…schools closed, shots were fired, clown-hunting mobs took to the streets..."

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