Reality is often stranger than fiction. No doubt this film is based on the life and lies of Dennis Rader, who committed a series of murders in Wichita, Kansas spanning over three decades. The Clovehitch Killer hits enough beats for us connect the dots to BTK, but manages to create an effective narrative apart from the real-life events. Skiles and writer Christopher D. Ford (Cop Car, Spider-Man: Homecoming) do this through their choice of perspective. Through Tyler, we see his father Don (Dylan McDermott) as a corny, God-loving father - charismatic, accepted by his community and loved by his family. He appears to us as he appears to Tyler, so when the film takes a sinister turn, we’re easily unsettled, questioning Don’s guilt or innocence.
Killer performances. The performances from the two leads, Charlie Plummer and Dylan McDermott are strong. Plummer, with his boyish looks and naive charm, naturally sells his internal struggle. It’s very clear he wants to dismiss his suspicions out of love for his father, but the evidence is too damning. Dylan McDermott delivers as a normal family man with hints of hedonism. You can sense there is a darkness in him, wearing religion as a mask to hide his true nature. The chemistry is there and the tension is palpable whenever these two are alone together.
What’s your sign? Similar to Zodiac, The Clovehitch Killer at its core is a search for truth and not so much about the truth itself. It is a question of morality, much deeper than the surface text of “is this guy actually a serial killer?” The real horror here is what if the person you love is not who you think they are? What would you do in this situation? Skiles and Ford put together a script with great bones. They devote a hefty amount of time to character development and provide a realistic depiction of the small town Christian life. These are the script’s strongest points. My only issue is that the film’s ending could be tighter. It seems a bit rushed in comparison to how patient the first two acts are. Other than that, it remains suspenseful throughout and is held together perfectly by Matt Veligdan’s tense score. I certainly wouldn’t mind watching this one again.
The Clovehitch Killer is a quiet engaging thriller. With a more calculated ending, it could've made some noise in the genre.
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