Allow me to preface the following review by stating that I love films about serial killers. I’m not sure why but ever since Silence of The Lambs scared me to death at age 12, I have been hooked. So, when a different spin on the typical serial killer film plot occurs, I am all for it. The Clovehitch Killer successfully subverts the tropes of the serial killer movie by not really making it about a serial killer at all.
Tyler is the typical middle American teenager. He’s in “The Order of Light” (read: The Boy Scouts), his mom stays at home, and his dad is a handyman as well as the Order of Light troop leader. Their family plays a big role in their local Baptist mega-church, replete with Christian rock bands formed with members of the church. They can all be seen participating in charity drives for the poor and just being an all-around ooey-gooey wholesome family.
So when Tyler borrows his dad’s truck one night to sneak out and see Amy, the girl he likes from school, they are both shocked and disgusted by a semi-pornographic picture from a magazine that depicts a young woman in a bondage scene when Amy finds it next to the passenger seat of the truck. Amy automatically believes that the photo belongs to Tyler, despite his claims to the contrary. We then discover that the photo is definitely not Tyler’s as we discover he is deeply disturbed by its presence in his father’s automobile.
Something else that would be important to mention is that the Kentucky town where Tyler and his family live is the site of a series of gruesome unsolved murders by someone known as “The Clovehitch Killer.” Whoever that person may be, they haven’t struck in ten years. Every year, the town holds a memorial for the victims. During the ceremony, Tyler finds out that not only did Amy think he was the owner of the photo, but that she told all of his friends about it.
“…the site of a series of gruesome unsolved murders…”
Soon after most of his friends think he’s a “perv,” he befriends the class weirdo, Kassi. There are untrue rumors about her going around as well. She’s often seen sitting outside of the church staring and reading a paper. We find out that she is trying to discover clues in her ongoing personal quest to find The Clovehitch Killer herself. Tyler joins her in her journey to some heartbreaking, frustrating, yet sometimes hilarious results.
The best performance in this film is undoubtedly from Dylan McDermott, as Tyler’s father, Don Burnside. McDermott’s seamless transformation from Hollywood hunk to corny Midwestern dad is remarkable and is one of his most entertaining and riveting performances to date. It’s also incredibly satisfying to see Samantha Mathis as a coupon-cutting Christian mother when I grew up watching her in very different roles. Both Charlie Plummer and Madisen Beaty are great as the teen protagonists, not to mention how hilarious Lance Chantiles-Wertz is as an uber Bible-thumping teen who wants nothing to do with Tyler’s new life as an unholy “pervert.”
Director Duncan Skiles and screenwriter Christopher Ford did a fantastic job in focusing more on the townsfolk affected by Clovehitch’s crime spree, rather than getting into the mind of the serial killer, which has been overdone, frankly. Additionally, there’s only one scene with a police officer, and it’s a total non sequitur that has only a tiny bit to do with a very exciting, ever-twisting plot.
The Clovehitch Killer is one of the best horror films to come out this year. It’s intelligent and subversive, and it captures the banality of small-town life perfectly. I’m going to stop here before I give away anything else because this is a movie best to go into knowing as little as possible. Even though I did see it twice and enjoyed it both times, I would have been pissed if I knew too much going in for my initial viewing. So I won’t do that here. Just take my advice and go see the movie. You won’t regret it!
The Clovehitch Killer (2018) Directed by Duncan Skiles. Written by Christopher Ford. Starring Charlie Plummer, Dylan McDermott, Samantha Mathis, Madisen Beaty, Brenna Sherman, Lance Chantiles-Wertz.
9 Out of 10 Stars