When I hear the names “Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker” attached to a project, I drop everything I’m doing. These two filmmakers are showcasing outstanding work in the documentary genre. Their doc Welcome to Leith, about white supremacists targeting and flipping a small town into their own personal basecamp, was a terrifying look at the escalation of evil. At first glance, their latest film Wrinkles the Clown looks to be as scary. Their subject: an anonymous person in South Florida who dresses up as a weathered clown and is hired by parents to freak out their misbehaving children. While it’s an unnerving premise, there are many layers at play that tie in to an overall message that isn’t *just* about the lurking clown.
Wrinkles is interviewed out of costume throughout the film. And while we never get a good look at his face, we can see he bears a vague resemblance to Santa Claus. What’s also vague is his opinion towards his clients. He makes it very clear that he’s nothing more than a resource for other people. He’s thankful for the money that trickles in, but he doesn’t completely condone the way kids are teased and terrified by the idea of Wrinkles. This concern is expanded upon throughout the film: the act of planting an idea and allowing different imaginations to nourish it.
Wrinkles the Clown, at first, feels like it doesn’t have a specific focus; speed-running through topics like psychological torture, Wrinkles’ viral fame, the origin of scary clowns and the obsession of its voyeurs. But the connection between all of these points of interest fully blooms when the documentary stops in its tracks during an unpredictable third act reveal. Michael Beach Nichols, who has conceived this film with Christopher K.Walker but directs this film solo, does a great job keeping track of many story threads, which he then successfully merges into a comprehensible takeaway about the unprecedented power of Wrinkles’ personality.
Horror filmmakers have taught audiences before about how our runaway imaginations can dominate us. Nichols and Walker take that information and do what they do best: apply that horror logic to a twisted reality.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie