With the success of last year’s adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, I think most of us knew we’d be seeing a new wave of clown-themed movies coming at us, since filmmaking is often about embracing trends. So, when I read that the indie horror film Gags would be venturing into some atypical territory by exploring that weird creepy clown phenomena happening around the country in recent years, I was more than intrigued (simply because I’m still left wondering to this day, just what in the hell was that all about, anyway?). Unfortunately, Gags spends a little too much time worrying about other characters and not nearly enough time with its mysterious eponymous jokester, ultimately making Gags an underwhelming experience that never quite lives up to its potential.
Following the events of one night in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Gags introduces us to its twisted titular character as he stalks some folks on their way to their car in an otherwise empty parking garage. From there, we begin following various groups, including an ambitious news reporter (played by the always engaging Lauren Ashley Carter) and her cameraman, a pair of cops dealing with the psychological fallout of Gags’ impact on the small community, a trio of teens who think it’s a super smart idea to go around town dressed like a clown so they can wreak havoc, and a right-wing gun nut podcast host (Aaron Christensen) who wants to enact his own brand of private justice on the clown and decides to hunt him down.
These various storylines are a big reason why Gags never seems to come together as a compelling narrative, simply because the leaps between all the various forms of footage (which generally come from iPhones, body cams, security cameras, or personal handheld cameras) never gel in a way that makes you want to invest in most of these characters. Carter is easily the best part of Gags, though, and any time her character showed up on screen, I was a happy camper (I promise it has nothing to do with the fact that she was playing a “Heather,” either!). The rest of the characters are so thinly drawn, though, that I just never really cared much for what was happening to them—I was just always looking for more time with Gags himself.
As mentioned, Gags the Clown is also criminally underutilized, with director Adam Krause only giving us some brief moments with the film’s tormentor, and I really wanted more. I’m sure Krause’s intent was to frame his titular baddie as something of a Bigfoot-type character that people only get glimpses of, but at some point, as a director you have to deliver the goods or it can feel like a cheat for audiences. Once we get to the film’s rather unique conclusion (I really wish I could discuss it more here, but it would be filled with all kinds of spoilers), the story takes a supernatural turn that feels completely unlike everything else that has preceded it, so I really wasn’t sure what to make of Krause’s intentions there. Everything else in Gags suggests a story steeped in realism, but the last 10 minutes or so of the movie suggest otherwise, and I don’t know if that decidedly left turn really works in the film’s best interest.
As someone who is always up for more clown-based horror hijinks, Gags feels like something of a letdown; there is a genuinely good idea at its core (I love that Krause tries to explore that recent trend of weird clowns just showing up everywhere), but his approach never really works for me as a viewer. Most of the characters are bland and unlikeable, and the scares are few and far between. Also, I know “found footage” gets a bad rap, and I’m not someone who will outright dismiss a movie simply because it goes this route, but so many aspects of Gags feel rather pedestrian, and I have to wonder if it comes from Krause using this type of shooting style instead of just filming the project more traditionally (filmmakers, take note: if there are moments where I have to ask why on Earth a camera would even be there in the first place, then you haven’t quite successfully figured out why this approach can work like gangbusters in the right circumstances).
Movie Score: 2/5
Editor's Note: Check here to read all of our reviews from the 2018 Cinepocalypse film festival!