Duncan Skiles’ creepy thriller The Clovehitch Killer works to simultaneously skewer the hypocrisy of religious extremists, while also contending that shying away from horrific realities can be just as terrifying as witnessing blood and gore.
The Clovehitch Killer, directed by Duncan Skiles, is a serial killer mystery thriller that details the horrors that can lurk beneath even the most affable of our surroundings. It also happens to be a coming-of-age tale, not unlike 2017’s Super Dark Times, wherein acts of extreme violence are used allegorically to evoke the terrors associated with leaving the safety of childhood behind. Unlike the former film which focused on outgrowing your childhood friends, The Clovehitch Killer explores this idea in the even more intimate context of family. The film poses questions related to challenging the beliefs that were imprinted onto you from an early age whilst also serving as a memorably chilling mystery that will hold you in mounting suspense throughout its runtime.
The story follows a picture perfect devout Christian family inhabiting a quiet town where most in the community are also committed to their religion. The peace is disrupted one day when 16-year-old Tyler (Charlie Plummer) comes across a photo in his father’s (Dylan McDermott) truck of a nude woman appearing to be bound and tortured. Tyler quickly comes to suspect that his scout leader father may be the infamous “Clovehitch Killer,” a serial killer who has derived his name from the distinctive clove hitch knot he ties to each victim’s home. Troubled by the recent discovery, Tyler collaborates with the town pariah, Kassi (Madisen Beaty), in order to uncover the truth once and for all. (The suspicions of a serial killer in a small-town community are reminiscent of Summer of 84, too.)
One of the most noteworthy aspects of the film is the way in which the religious setting enhances the terror of the situation by maximizing the vulnerability of our wide-eyed protagonist. Without being afforded a smartphone and having his computer privileges strictly monitored, Tyler is more susceptible than most modern teenagers, which creates the sense that there is little he can do even if he is able to confirm his suspicions.
The fact that Tyler has been shielded from the gory details of the past murders occurring in his quaint town also further pronounces the character’s innocence. This degree of purity makes it all the more profound as we experience firsthand the struggles and growing pains of spending your entire life being indoctrinated by your parents’ beliefs and the challenges that come with arriving at an age where you are able to decide for yourself what you believe.
As we witness more of Tyler’s daily life occurrences, it becomes clear that the film also serves as a scathing commentary on the hypocrisy of religious extremists and the idea that the prudish aversion to sex and violence can in effect be more dangerous than the acts themselves. The Clovehitch Killer’s thesis could best be summed up as the question of whether an ignorance of our natural human urges can in actuality lead to our worst impulses being unleashed in disturbingly perverted ways.
Additionally, Tyler’s unwillingness to see the truth as the evidence against his father increasingly mounts can be frustrating but also lends itself to the atmosphere of unease the film fosters. The most disturbing aspect of the film isn’t the gory details of the titular killer’s murderous methods, but rather the all too real concept that many would rather turn a blind eye to the truth than struggle with the idea that most of their life has been a deception.
Aside from the thematic poignance, the film also employs some surprising flips in the narrative in the final act, which adds a sense of unpredictability. While the film takes a bit too long to wrap up in its final moments, this storytelling device allows The Clovehitch Killer to avoid petering out and instead leaves the viewer on the edge of their seat throughout. The film’s potency is also aided by the entire cast, most notably the father and son duo provided by an unnerving Dylan McDermott and a virtuously sympathetic Charlie Plummer.
Ultimately, The Clovehitch Killer is an effectively creepy horror thriller about the loss of innocence and the potential lethality of intentional ignorance. It is not to be missed by horror fans who like their chills from unexpected sources. The Clovehitch Killer was released theatrically this past November but is now available to rent digitally.