Gags is the new clown horror film with something to say...that you will, no doubt, be hearing more about in the coming months. The world premiere for the film was last night at the second annual Cinepocalypse Film Festival in Chicago...and your boy was there to checkity check it out. Let's begin...shall we?
Firstly...it may seem a little strange that I would be in a theater checking out something brand spanking new these days...as my film reviews, lately...have been mostly stuff that I've been playing catch-up with. Like, for example...I only just watched that new Strangers sequel last week...and I've been thinking of how to properly express how painfully mediocre that film was...so, I haven't posted a review on that one yet. As a matter of fact...the last time I sat down to write a review for a film that was currently relevant was for Netflix's stellar release of Gerald's Game. Meanwhile...this blog has been mostly dipped in the trailer game. It's just waaaay easier to strap on (heh...I said "strap on") a few words to a buzz-worthy trailer that just dropped. They even have a handy copy/paste code for easy embedding...and whatnot. So...I've been sticking to that lately. However...I was cordially invited to the Music Box the other day for an exclusive premiere of a film that has been on every genre-hungry fan's radar for the last couple of years. The film is Gags...the latest cinematic endeavor from the likes of Wisconsin's greatest horror indie filmmakers since...well...I'm not too sure. But...Adam Krause and John Pata are among the most talented writers and filmmakers that you will ever have the pleasure of coming across...(heh...I said "coming across"). I first met John back when his short film Pity was making the rounds. And...well...you remember my thoughts on that film...right? And, damn...Dead Weight. You remember what I thought about that one...right? Jesus Christ, man. Don't you guys freakin' read my stuff?? Don't you pay attention to my many cinematic adventures?? I mean...I sit and I watch...and I write...and I throw an ungodly amount of ellipses in there...and you don't even take the time to at least skim through my stuff??? Where's the love?? What in the blue buffalo cock am I doing with my life...and why am I writing this stupid blog for anyway??? I got more important stuff to do these days...like binge the latest season of Naked and Afraid XL, for fuck's sake! Oh...and 90 Day Fiance ain't gonna watch itself! I need to find out if Pedro is in it for Chantel's money!
Goddamnit. I forgot to take my medication. Hang on a sec.
Ok. That's better.
Anyway. Where was I?? Oh...yeah. So...John Pata's a fucking immensely talented individual. I think we've already covered that. A tad long-winded...but, super talented. This is Krause's first attempt at a feature film, tho...so the jury's still out on his talents. However, judging by his execution of Gags...the man definitely has vision. And these days...sometimes that's all you really need to helm a decent genre film. Shit...that Strangers sequel could've certainly benefited from a splash of vision. But...this ain't about that film...this is about Gags.
If you know the story behind Gags...then I'm not gonna go into the lore too too much here. Basically...someone decided to dress someone up as a sinister looking clown and take photos and leak it onto the world wide web...where it basically created a viral firestorm that took off and had people duplicating the stunt around the world. So much so...that there was a creepy clown in just about every country. There was a moment a couple of years ago...where you could not escape the fucking clowns. They were everywhere. EVERYWHERE! All thanks to these fun-loving Wisconsin guys that decided to make clowns a thing in the first place. Well...legend has it that Krause turned the media stunt into a short film...and then teamed up with Mr. Pata to write a feature together...and now...GAGS! It's a cool story...begging for an even cooler film. And...thankfully...I'm here to say that Gags is a smartly cool film with some truly ambitious concepts that propel the film to a level of social sophistication not normally seen from horror movies about killer clowns. This one's the real deal, kids.
The film centers around the clown craze...from which the initial concept was birthed from. Sort of a meta thing...which is kinda crazy if you sit down and really think about it. Like...one day...someone created a concept that takes off...and goes viral. Then...they come back and make a film rooted in the same viral concept...but, add some real potent horror elements to it...thus creating an entirely new thing. Are you with me so far? That's the cool thing about Gags...it doubles down on the very thing that made it special in the first place. All the while...stringing together four story lines in a very anthology-feeling narrative that convenes at the very end for one hell of a bonkers finale. It has that VHS feel to it without actually feeling like a straight up anthology film. If you remember...that film had a bunch of separate stories with a "wrap-a-round" story gluing everything together. This one has Gags to glue everything together...which really feels organic and ultimately steers the film away from gimmick territory. I'm not gonna get into spoiler territory...because the film is best served as an experience that you know very little about going in. All you really know is that there's a fucking clown that everyone is talking about...and everyone is trying to get a glimpse of this new social media spectacle. It's that natural thing about human nature where everyone wants to experience the thing that's hot at the moment...and Gags really takes that very notion to a new place...within the traditional confines of found footage cinema.
In the way of performances...this one has a few noteworthy ones. Aaron Christensen, for instance, really stands out as the right-wing podcaster named Charles Wright (ha) who is literally aiming to take down Gags with his own crazy gun-toting philosophy. Christensen's performance really sells the character...who comes across as quite scary, if you think about today's political climate and how people who love their guns...LOVE their guns. It's a performance that really sells the notion of how some were really looking to shoot first and ask questions later back when the real clown craze was hitting it's peak. Then...on the other side of the performance coin...Wyatt Kuether as news cameraman Dale is pure comedic relief gold. I'd almost love a side film where we just follow Dale around on a random day. He's that good! I suppose Lauren Ashley Carter might be considered the draw of the film...playing news reporter Heather Duprey...hunting Gags as her next big scoop. She does a fine job...as always...but, I like her in more understated roles where she plays the girl hiding some kind of crazy secret. As for the rest of the performers...they are fine for what is asked of them. There's no real standout bad performance...unless you count the other news reporter lady with the super long hair.
The scares here are what really solidify this as a horror experience. Super creepy stuff. Especially for the coulrophobic viewers in the house. There are also some concepts and world building stuff that really gives the film it's legs. Like the black balloons, for instance. Those elements really help to establish the allure of the film. Like...what is that stuff that comes out of the balloons when they burst. What is it that this Gags clown is truly after? Where did it all come from? And that ending! It's stuff like this that would make for an interesting second film...if they decide to revisit this world. While I really dug the creepy things that the film presented...the more horror related tropes like dudes in bloody clown make-up getting back up after someone shoots them...it was the commentary that the story provides that makes up the truly horrifying stuff. Like...there's a scene where Charles Wright attempts a live execution of Gags...and the number of viewers goes up as the promise of a dead clown is presented. It plays into that whole social media obsession thing...where we just all spend waaay too much time chasing "likes" and "views" and things like that. And when you combine all that human nature stuff with the gun issues and the cop issues and the clown copycat stuff...in hopes of just chasing that immortal promise of some kind of weird notion of fame...it really ups the ante on what we consider scary these days. Especially in the wake of this whole "making America great again" weird movement unfolding before our eyes. It's storytelling like this that will make this film resonate with the audience it does manage to find. However, this might be the very thing that also turns the more traditional horror enthusiasts off. Some might find it irritating that Gags feels more like a side character in his own film...thus missing the point of the whole experience. This isn't so much a story about a killer clown...as much as it is a study of the many different points of view that mankind is capable of and how we might deal with the "killer clown" in the room. I mean...after all, one could simply replace the clown with just about anything...because the clown is just a totem that symbolizes a sort of makeshift carnival mirror pointed squarely at human nature. Kind of brilliant storytelling...if you ask this Deviant.
In the end...Gags...the film...is something of a unicorn in this modern landscape of flinchy horror cinema. It is a horror film about clowns that goes beyond what one might expect a horror film about clowns to be. It is an intelligent found footage camera study on a technologically media obsessed social construct that needs to be deconstructed...and that is the kind of stuff you don't normally see...but should to be watched by everyone. I cannot recommend Gags enough.
Thanks for reading,