UWO alumni-made ‘Gags the Clown’ struggles to terrify


Owen Peterson, Columnist

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Owen Peterson

While Pennywise is currently out terrifying audiences in the second-largest opening horror movie ever, an independent group of UW Oshkosh alumni screened their own scary clown movie at Reeve Memorial Union last Thursday.

You might recall the short lived but bizarre craze that was the “clown sightings” in the summer of 2016, but what you may not know is that the sightings in Green Bay inspired a short film about an evil clown titled “Gags.”

Three years later, the killer clown made his return to the screen in “Gags the Clown,” a passion project of Adam Krause (director/co-writer), along with John Pata (co-writer) and D.J. Kast (cinematographer). All three of these horror junkies went through UWO’s radio/TV/film program.

In the film, Krause attempts to capture the frenzy that ensued following the aforementioned “clown sightings” with a blend of comedy and horror, but this ambitious hybrid never quite pulls off what it sets to achieve due to its tonal inconsistency and lackluster cast of characters.

Taking place over the course of a single night in Green Bay, the film follows four unique groups of people, a pair of police officers, a news crew, an off-kilter podcast host and a bunch of teenage kids, and how they are all affected by the presence of a terrifying clown named Gags in their town.

As the night gets more and more deadly, the characters’ paths begin to intertwine as the mysteries surrounding Gags start to unfold.

Krause claimed this is the first feature film filmed entirely in Green Bay, which helps the authenticity of the movie taking place one night in the city. The film was also supposed to utilize real news footage from the viral marketing campaign, which would have added a blend of fiction and nonfiction to the story, but it couldn’t be used due to licensing issues.

The movie was shot in the style of found footage, a subgenre closely associated with horror films that has garnered a bad rap over the last decade for featuring distracting cinematography, limited storytelling capabilities and resorting to jump-scares, but “Gags the Clown” manages to transcend these genre tropes through its ambitious plot and scope.

Though it’s not realistic that the cell phones, dash cams and news cameras all have the same video quality, the cinematography sacrifices practicality in favor of being visually compelling and avoid reverting to the “shaky-cam” trope that usually hinders a film like this.

The film also avoids being visually uninteresting through the wide range of characters, as the switching between perspectives means that the audience is never trapped with the same character or location for longer than desired.

“Gags the Clown” offers a unique take on typical found-footage horror, as it gets most of its scares from building an eerie atmosphere rather than just using jump scares to warrant a reaction. Not once in the film does any clown suddenly appear out of nowhere, accompanied by a loud obnoxious sound effect.

The type of horror found in “Gags the Clown” is best exemplified by scenes such as one shot within Oshkosh’s own Time Community Theater. In the scene, a police officer responds to a break-in and investigates the pitch black theater with only her flashlight, when suddenly the projector turns on and starts playing a video of a clown, followed by the titular villain appearing in the dimly lit background staring at the officer.

Unfortunately, the repercussions of having so many different threads is that the film has trouble maintaining an engaging story and leaves many of its characters paper thin and underdeveloped.

The entire first hour of the film is dedicated to jumping between the many perspectives and establishing the setting, which is not inherently a bad thing, as world-building and atmospheric development are vital in the horror genre. But when a film dedicates nearly three quarters of its runtime to merely establishment, it is very easy to bore the audience.

This is especially frustrating when so little is done with the characters over that extended period of time. For most of the characters in this film, once they are introduced, they go through little change over the course of the film, which makes it really hard to establish any connection or even care about what happens to them.

Even worse, the majority of the performances, with the exception of Lauren Ashley Carter and Aaron Christensen, are mediocre and even irritating at certain points, making it harder to connect with them.

All of this, combined with the fact that the plot is relatively stagnant until the 60-minute mark, means that the film often begins to feel like it is dragging and even gets repetitive at times.

The perspective of the group of teenagers is especially guilty of this as every time the film went to their viewpoint, it was pretty much the same gag over and over again that added nothing of consequence to the piece as a whole.

By far the film’s biggest and most frustrating issue is just how inconsistent the tone can feel at times. Throughout the film, there are moments of decent horror and just as many (if not more) moments of genuinely great comedy, which doesn’t appear to be an issue upon first glance, but these tones just don’t mix.

Instead of having moments of comedic relief in a generally scary film or having scary moments within an otherwise comedic film, “Gags the Clown” has a jarring effect whenever it switches between the two, leaving the viewer confused about how they are supposed to feel.

Every scene that builds up any sense of horror is swiftly undermined by a subsequent scene of that is played out for pure comedic value. The film could have been vastly improved if it fully committed to either horror or comedy instead of clumsily trying to juggle both to no avail.

“Gags the Clown” unfortunately suffers from a crippling identity crisis that prevents it from having a sense of coherence that would allow it (especially the first hour) to be a lot more enjoyable.

While Krause and the other UWO alumni showed so much potential to present an inventive take on the found-footage horror genre, “Gags the Clown” gets lost in its own ambitious premise but falls just short of being a memorable experience.

Rating: 2 Stars