As we inch further and further into the twenty-first century, it’s only appropriate that horror movies and their marketing becomes increasingly more meta. Such is the case with Gags the Clown, whose origin began in the wave of clown sightings across America in 2016, particularly in Green Bay, Wisconsin. While at first it seemed people were being stalked by a genuine nut job in a clown suit, it soon came out that the sightings were staged promotion for an upcoming killer clown movie. This killer clown movie.
Pictures and video of a macabre-looking clown known only as Gags have been consuming the citizens of Green Bay. Gags seems to appear and disappear at random, holding aloft a quarter of black balloons and looking anything but cheerful. The city is rapidly falling into mass coulrophobia. Mischievous pranksters are taking advantage of the fear to cause mischief, parents are unwilling to let their children out at night, and the police have their hands tied as Gags hasn’t committed any actual crime. It’s under these circumstances that a few locals (some teens, a TV news reporter, and a right-wing podcaster) decide to take matters into their own hands. But when it comes to Gags, those black balloons are the least of your worries.
As you may have guessed, Gags is a found footage film, and the tactic works well here, especially when it comes to heightening the tension and highlighting the fear that’s strangling this community. The story bounces between four distinct groups, none of whom have complete knowledge of what’s really going on until the narrative threads converge at the climax. Director Adam Krause knows how to keep the story moving and feel fresh, even if the characters are as stale and musty as the inside of Gags’ clown suit. This would be less of a crime if there were more scares, but aside from the prologue and a few creepy moments in the first half, Gags holds back a lot for the majority of the film.
There are scattered moments throughout that really work, however; it’s most effective when the viewer begins to realize that the threat Gags poses is not as simple or mundane as a madman in makeup. The unnatural manner in which Gags operates adds a very different, very uneasy angle to the standard story of a dangerous clown. This is enhanced by a strong sense of foreboding in the film’s atmosphere, and competent camerawork. A lot of the sequences, particularly towards the end, blend together different means of recording to create a seamless sense of despair while also keeping hold of the story. It must have been a bitch to edit.
Found footage, as I’m sure we all know, is a tricky medium and sub-genre to get right. Gags the Clown doesn’t fail by any means, but it also doesn’t get the gold star. The weird, absurd finale is dark and goofy, but somewhat off-kilter for what came before. It’s an apt representation of the film as a whole, I think. There are bubbles of strange enjoyment, but in between is murky confusion populated with paint-by-numbers characters. Still, it’s good for a laugh. Even if that laugh is more of a retching cough.
Gags the Clown
5 – Totally Terrifying 4 – Crazy Creepy 3 – Fairly Frightening
- 2 – Slightly Scary
1 – Hardly Horror