Duncan Skiles’ suburban thriller The Clovehitch Killer is an intimate examination of the monsters that hide in plain sight, and while it’s a poignant example of how a dark secret can tear a family apart, it struggles to put any power behind the story it’s trying to tell. In this one, a picture-perfect family is shattered when the work of a serial killer hits too close to home when a boy suspects that his father is The Clovehitch Killer.
Right away the film focuses on this family that, on the surface, seems perfect. The father and son bond through boy scouts, the entire family gathers around the dinner table every night enjoying each other’s company, and they regularly have a family night to play games. While it sounds rather ordinary—most families have some sort of dynamic similar to this—the way this family is represented in the film is so heavy-handed that it comes off as artificial. It’s such an obvious angle for a story about a serial killer that it almost immediately feels like a gimmick—it being so on-the-nose made it hard for me to really buy into.
This notion that audiences will be shocked to find out that a perfect, god-loving American family is hiding a very dark secret is a mistake that a lot of movies make. All this formula really does is diminish its not-so-shocking reveal because hiding a killer under a veil of purity is exactly where you’d expect them to hide. And since the entire story is built around this very predictable trope, it never gains any meaningful momentum or tension.
It spoils the narrative before it even has a chance to hook the audience, and the fact that it beats around this very obvious bush for much of its runtime makes The Clovehitch Killer a slog to sit through. Had it spent less time trying to disguise what was so apparent, and instead focused solely on what makes its story inherently terrifying—finding out that someone you love and trust is actually a monster—then it could have expressed its message with a much stronger (and interesting) tone. And because of this, the film has no real weight behind it, making it feel like more of the same.
Thankfully, it starts to show some personality in the final act as there’s actually some good stuff happening here, particularly when we see how gnarly its killer really is—Dylan McDermott makes for a good creep. So I have to give credit to the filmmaker because that sudden, unexpected shift in tone gives the film much needed life. But even here the structure of the story is uneven; there’s a lot of jumping back and forth in the narrative—it’s a distraction that ruins a really great moment in the movie. While I think the casual horror fan might be more into this than I was, it just doesn’t do anything interesting enough to stand out—and with dozens of horror films getting released each and every month, that’s becoming more and more difficult to achieve. So ultimately, The Clovehitch Killer simply takes too long to become worthwhile, and although there’s potential in its final act, it’s all too little too late.