Streaming Releases: The Clovehitch Killer (2018) - Reviewed

Serial killer films have saturated modern cinema, with varying results.  A malleable sub-section of the horror/thriller genre, entries range from B movie schlock to art house provocations.  Duncan Skils' The Clovehitch Killer is a slow burn marvel, retreading the familiar trope of small-town secrets and creating an ambiance of uncertainty that is refreshingly devoid of violence.  Featuring an unforgettable central performance by Dylan McDermott, ominous visual compositions, and a delightfully misleading story, this is an excellent addition to the pantheon of madmen.

An embarrassing discovery leads devout teenager Tyler to suspect that his father; scout leader and pillar of the community, may be a notorious serial killer.  As Tyler and a newfound ally begin their investigation into his father's deeds, Tyler begins to realize that everything he thought about his family may be an illusion.  Christopher Ford's script takes a unique approach to material that has been overdone to death.  The parallel stories of Charlie Plummer's Tyler and Dylan McDermott's patriarch Don are given copious amounts of time to breath.  The film is split into three sections.  The first involves Tyler's quest of discovery, the second focuses on Don's point of view, and the third uses a series of flashbacks to join the previous acts together.  While the final two portions contain the bulk of the "action", it is the first that allows its two stars to truly shine.  A cat and mouse game in which the opponents love one another brings a new dynamic, and the manner in which Plummer and McDermott balance the material is masterful.  McDermott in particular is sensational, giving what is perhaps the best performance of his career.  His presence in every scene is palpable, be it at a family dinner, scout meeting, or clandestine woodshed gathering.  It is a testament to McDermott’s skill that innocuous mannerisms and mundane paternal advice become harbingers of dread under his impressive command.  Rounding out the cast is Madisen Beaty as Tyler's newfound friend Kassi.  Her scenes with Plummer are fantastic, showcasing a growing mutual respect and tragic sense of maturity.  As these two youthful protagonists get closer to the truth, it is the understanding that their mission will forever undo their concepts of reality that is perhaps the darkest component of the story.


Luke McCoubrey's washed out cinematography mimics the soul of the town at the center of the happenings.  Everything is presented as a ghost or memory, with flashes of color interwoven among the sterile color palette that dominates the compositions.  This beautifully enhances the pervasive feeling of unease that fills virtually every frame of the film, which contrasts the "wholesome" American values that are held dear by the townsfolk.  It would be easy to say that Skiles aim was at small town conservative life, and it is a fair admission that the concept of a wolf hiding among the sheep is a common trope because it’s true.  However, in Clovehitch, Skiles’ treatment of the obvious is sublime because it is restrained.  Everything is left up to the viewer to decide upon, especially with respect to the religious and moral values of the community in which a depraved killer may have been hiding.

Available today on digital on demand, The Clovehitch Killer is a fascinating journey into the mind of a monster and the heart of a town whose faith may be inexorably tied to enabling a murderer.  It is this philosophical quandary, combined with a classic young detective story that form the foundation of an intricate dissertation on the nature of father-son relationships amidst the revelation that our heroes are even more flawed than those that worship them.

--Kyle Jonathan