The Clovehitch Killer gives us Dylan McDermott’s creepiest performance yet

The Clovehitch Killer forgoes hardened detectives for a pair of sleuthing teens in this quiet and surprisingly introspective thriller.

The Clovehitch Killer is yet another look at the decaying heart of suburbia and the often seedy underbelly of even the most ordinary looking neighborhoods. Middle America, the Bible belt, blue-collar working class citizens, have all been at the heart of many a headline in our current political climate.

Dylan McDermott plays Don, the most by-the-numbers movie dad if there ever was one. He wears Mr. Rogers-esque sweaters, can’t figure out how to give a sex talk to his son without being horrendously cringe-worthy, and sports a beer belly and pair of glasses that make him seem unassuming and easily camouflaged by all the other barbecue dads likely inhabiting this small Kentucky town.

Except, beyond this “Danny Tanner” facade lurks a predator, a dangerous one with sociopathic and psychosexual tendencies coupled with the ability to masquerade by playing the wolf in sheep’s clothing in the shape of a self-effacing Scout leader. Don’s own son, Tyler (Charlie Plummer, star of recent All the Money in the World) is a member of the Scouts, and has no reason to suspect his father of anything uncharacteristic or sinister. Why should he?

The town they live in has been haunted by several unsolved murders that took place years ago, but when they stalled, so did the investigation. Over the years, people moved on, as did the local police force. The only evidence of the case was copied and filed away by an older woman who used to work for the sheriff and her daughter, Kassi (Madisen Beatty from The Fosters) obsessively pours over it due to her own personal ties to the case.

The killer, aptly dubbed the “Clovehitch” killer due to the type of knot he was known for stringing his victims up with, has seemingly become dormant, but we, as the audience, know better.

Even if characters in the film’s universe are fooled by Don’s plum, doting fatherly demeanor, viewers will quickly attune to McDermotts uncanny and downright creepy performance.

Despite getting his start on The Practice, he’s become well-known in the horror community from his tenure as Ben Harmon on Ryan Murphy’s anthology series, American Horror Story. Harmon was haunted by the ghosts in his home but Don is a monster all on his own. This is quite a different animal than what we’ve seen McDermott tackle before and his performance is one of the key elements that makes this film work as well as it does.

Charlie Plummer as Tyler in The Clovehitch Killer (2018) – Credit: IFC Midnight & End Cue

Both McDermott and Plummer mirror each other in their careful, cautious, subdued performances. Where McDermott simmers with sexual repression and manipulation tactics, Plummer is more earnest in his fixation to discover the truth about his own father. The two make for a compelling on-screen duo and their scenes are often some of the strongest ones of the movie.

One can almost come to understand how a man like Don can be created. This is the type of town where being in ownership of fetish porn will get you ostracized, being gay is shamed, and not going to church is essentially committing yourself to a life of ostracization. People here live and breath repression, anything deemed out of the ordinary is squashed out like a bug.

In a way, this film is a condemnation of the controlling nature of religion. Hence the church and town reputations playing such a key role in the story. That’s not to condone this man’s actions by any means but monstrous things can come of ignoring dark impulses until they forcibly manifest in harmful ways. Reputation matters, an important thing to note given the direction the story takes in its final act.

As expected after the brief introduction to Kassi’s character, she and Tyler are set on the path to discovering the truth about Tyler’s father. It’s a refreshing take on a genre that is generally rife with rugged, damaged detectives and cops hellbent on revenge. This time it’s just two ordinary teens that stumble upon something incredibly unnerving. For Tyler’s journey begins when he finds a BDSM photograph in his father’s truck – whilst in the middle of hooking up with another girl, thus earning him a bad reputation at school.

While this movie doesn’t have any pulse-pounding moments, it creeps up on you all the same. There was one scene in particular where my jaw actually dropped because it was so simple in its execution but shocking and unexpected all the same.

Despite its slow and meticulous pacing, I was never bored. Even when the movie basks in the quiet moments, it’s still riveting. Much is left to the viewer to piece together, in terms of motivation and backstory, we get pieces necessary to move the film forward but much is left to the audience to figure out.

That said, the movie does falter in its lack of urgency. There isn’t a real impetus to get to the conflict, while the film is suspenseful, the tension does not feel as if it is truly “building” towards anything because there is no real question as to who the Clovehitch killer is, at least, not for the audience.

We’re just waiting for these characters to get confirmation of what they already know deep down. But it’s a smart take on the story. Imagine discovering someone you know, love, and trust is a serial killer? How would you react?

The character of Kassi is also given little to do beyond existing to give Tyler a direction to go in. She’s less of a character and more of a plot device but I still found the nature of their relationship sweet albeit predictable. It gave the movie a little bit of sweet innocence to balance its grim premise.

Still, it’s a fine film and I definitely enjoyed it. It exceeded my expectations and despite the minor issues I had with it, I was deeply impressed with the performances and it captivated me enough  to hold my attention from beginning to end.

The Clovehitch Killer was directed by relative newcomer Duncan Skiles, and written by Christopher Ford whose other writing credits include Robot & Frank and Spiderman: Homecoming.

In addition to Plummer, Beatty, and McDermott, the film also stars Samantha Mathis (The Strain) as Tyler’s mother and Don’s wife, Cindy, and Brenna Sherman as Tyler’s sister and Don’s daughter, Susie.

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The film had its release at the LA Film Festival in September of this year with IFC Midnight distributing.

The Clovehitch Killer is available now to rent on Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.

Will you watch The Clovehitch Killer? What other serial killer films are you a fan of? Let us know in the comments.

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