The Clovehitch Killer, 2018.
Directed by Duncan Skiles.
Starring Charlie Plummer, Samantha Mathis, Dylan McDermott, Madisen Beaty, Brenna Sherman, and Lance Chantiles-Wertz.
A picture-perfect family is shattered when the work of a serial killer hits too close to home. Dylan McDermott stars in this chilling portrait of all-American evil.
*Note – There’s no way to write about The Clovehitch Killer without spoiling crucial details, so please, read on at your own risk. You’ve been spoiler warned.*
Duncan Skiles’ The Clovehitch Killer transforms Dylan McDermott into one of 2018’s most captivating psychopaths – a first bid towards challenging Nicolas Cage’s manic performance style. Maybe not as frenzied? McDermott doesn’t embody full “Rage Cage.” Skiles’ true crime inspired killer-thriller first questions a Christian scoutmaster’s homelife through his increasingly-paranoid son, then unleashes unholy truths like a firehose blast. No layers left unpeeled, such as recent serial slashers Summer Of 84 or more parallel Into The Dark’s “Flesh & Blood.” A deconstruction of the monster within, masks we wear, and bloodlines tainted through repression manifested into madness.
Charlie Plummer stars as golden-boy Tyler, a model son and maturing teen. Father Don (Dylan McDermott) and mother Cindy (Samantha Mathis) oversee a religious household built on pre-meal prayers and morality, which Tyler and sister Susie (Brenna Sherman) follow without argument. That’s until Tyler sneaks out in his father’s truck one night for some late-night smooches only to have worn-out bondage photos ruin hormonal moods. Tyler’s branded a pervert at school, which drives him to justify why his father would hide such troubling “pornography.” This objective leads the boy down a dark path and to local conspiracy outcast Kassi (Madisen Beaty), as the two investigate an outrageous but serious claim: Don is the local killer known as “Clovehitch.”
“Clovehitch” derives from tabloid fodder given the killer’s calling card is an affinity towards the “Clovehitch” rope knot. Victims are always females, suggesting sexual gratification and a repetitive victim pattern. We’re immediately directed to the notion that Don – a master wilderness scout with peculiar habits – could “potentially” be the film’s title slayer. The Clovehitch Killer is about hiding in plain sight which plotting takes to heart, always pushing a dissection and destruction of all-American facades with quite troubling (demonizing) results.
One cannot ignore McDermott’s dad-bod ownership as Don; evangelical, all-smiles, eerily flawless. A man who treats cans of flavored soda like they’re alcoholic contraband and delivers an all-time cringy sex talk inside his work shed. As clues unravel and Plummer’s worried son struggles to believe his father – the man who raised him – could *actually* be “Clovehitch,” McDermott provokes the proverbial beast. Thrashing around on his master bed, flipping the switch on alternate personalities. Wretched evilness disguised by his status in the church and adoration of family. A stalker of women who forces his son to choose between two defining paths: be the man his father hides, or be better.
A better cut of Skiles’ film would trim down first-half sequences that bloat Don’s 110-minute breakdown, but McDermott’s “Ranger Pop” charms are intoxicating in their implications. Disgusting in their corruption and borderline masterful in execution. Making pancakes by morning, asphyxiating housewives by night. There are slight throws like Don’s wheelchair-bound brother fitting into a 10-year absence of deaths, but little question outside this slight red herring. Don’s an easy mark, and Plummer’s reactionary sleuthing/coping – along with Madisen Beaty’s newfound sidekick – keep The Clovehitch Killer’s core from unraveling.
Religion plays a perfect den for Don to nest unassumed given how “best behavior” looks can never be too overplayed. We’re talking mass every Sunday, rigid upbringing rules, and a devotion to divine consciousness such as Tyler’s friend Billy (Lance Chantiles-Wertz) not even entertaining Tyler’s concerns at the thought of him being sexually active (perversion vs abstinence). Kentucky’s Bible Belt becomes prime real estate worth Skiles’ manipulation, down to Mathis’s wife playing oblivious to her husband’s second life.
The Clovehitch Killer is a sometimes lurching, character-driven, picket-fence descent into a wolf’s hunting methods without his pack’s awareness that is, inarguably, pure wicked tragedy. Dylan McDermott – a typically suave ladies-man type player – sprouts horns to become the devil Duncan Skiles requires. Achey like an old man, meticulous in calculations, and profoundly worrisome from the very first scene. McDermott knows he’s playing the first person you suspect and coyly leans into the makings of a murderer. Reveling in vileness that honors every tried and safe true-crime nightmare brought to life but, admittedly, with slightly better than average results (even if graphic killer motivations aren’t fully-fleshed).
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).