GAGS THE CLOWN (2018)
Directed by Adam Krause
Written by Adam Krause, John Pata
Starring Lauren Ashley Carter, Tracy Perez, Aaron Christensen, Evan Gamble, Wyatt Kuether, Jake Martin, Michael Gideon Sherry, Squall Charlson, Halley Sharp, Eric Heuvelman, Steve Herson, Fiona Domenica, Zarai Perez, Aidan Arendt, Rufus Burns, Asia Champeau, Robyn Coffin, Brad Esquivel, Cory Allen Estreen, Melonie Gartner, Alyssa Jepsen, Alaina Karner, Samuel Karow, D.J. Kast, Heather Koehler, Kelly LaTour, Nick Lauer, Katrina Mazier, Joe Meredino, Alex Tyler Meyers, Rhiann Owen, Devin Polar, Matthew Torres
Find out more about this film here
A man dressed in a clown costume terrorizes a small town and catches the eye of the 24 hour news cycle. What first starts as a seemingly harmless prank to scare the population becomes a full-fledged assault as those who get too close to the clown become afflicted with a debilitating virus. As an eager reporter (Lauren Ashley Carter) seeks to find out the truth behind the phenomenon, the clown sightings become more prevalent. This inspires copycats to add to the chaos and fuels the rage of an online right winger (Aaron Christensen) to hit the streets ready to take matters into his own hands. It’s all called GAGS THE CLOWN and it’s a mixed bag of goods and bads.
While GAGS THE CLOWN might present itself as a found footage film, it actually breaks almost every rule of the subgenre. The film falls more in line of Barry Levinson’s THE BAY as it doesn’t rely on the consistency of one handheld perspective. Instead both films rely on multiple cameras (from iPhones to security cams to dashboard and police body cams) to tell a broad tale piecemeal, editing together the footage in a way too impossible to comprehend if this were some kind of footage found. GAGS THE CLOWN also breaks the found footage template by adding music (always a no-no in these types of films) which immediately breaks up any tension of authenticity it tries to establish. Unless there’s a keyboardist in the corner of the dark alley off camera, there shouldn’t be music to accentuate the scares—the found footager relies on the handheld shakiness of the camera to do that. It seems somewhere during the editing process; this feeling wasn’t really being communicated and some extra jump scare piano bangs and suspenseful setups were added by someone who doesn’t really understand the genre.
Another aspect of not only found footage films, but all films for that matter, is that there should be an air of authenticity to the acting. It should be as if the actors aren’t reading lines, but simply being caught acting naturally on camera. Most of the younger cast of GAGS THE CLOWN lost that memo and there is some extremely bad acting as a result of that. Thankfully, the film is saved by the always talented and beautiful Lauren Ashley Carter who plays the ambitious newscaster scouring the streets for footage of the elusive clown. Carter is able to show the poise of an anchorwoman and then immediately switch to a more realistic persona when the live feed goes off and become acidic about having to lower herself to cover this type of story. Adding to the talented portion in the acting pool is Aaron Christensen who plays the right-wing gun nut in a manner that is just imbalanced enough to be believable yet holds back from being a cartoony caricature often played in films. Christensen’s character is increasingly unhinged, but seems to buy the logic he spews on his Youtube channel and chews up every scene he’s in. Had the film simply focused on these two polar opposites of the more liberal media and the conservative Youtuber working their way towards each other with Gags in the middle, this would have been a much stronger film. Unfortunately, with the inclusion of the kids impersonating the clown and pulling pranks on people really bogs the film down.
It’s quite obvious filmmaker Adam Krause and his co-writer John Pata are using this film as a commentary on the dual realities that have overtaken modern culture. Depending on the media you deep dive into, you’re going to see things in a vastly different way. Using the talented Carter and Christensen in these roles, both more blood hungry for viewer attention despite their vast differences in political leanings is a fascinating concept—especially when you consider it is the population of the small town who are actually being slaughtered. I think the film almost nails that concept, missing the mark about the point with the crowd being the victims, but nailing the extreme representations of the right and left with its more talented cast.
I really liked the clown virus concept and how it eventually spreads across the small town, culminating with a gathering of the infected inside a lit tent in a warehouse. The scenes of infected attacks and the appearances of Gags are all well done as director Krause is able to highlight the otherworldly nature of clowns and how scary they truly can be. I especially loved the off the wall ending where no rules apply and the film embraces its own lunacy. The film literally ends with a surprising and entertaining bang. But I wish GAGS THE CLOWN were more consistent across the board. The strong performances from the two leads and the oddball way the film ends feel almost separate from the rest of the film which really does falter when it focuses on the youthful actors. Those who aren’t used to low budget films are going to be put off by the scenes without Carter and Christensen because of the non-actors that populate the middle portions. Still, that ending is a classic and if you can wade through some rough acting spots, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the way it all ends up.