There’s a questionable statistic making the rounds on the internet that suggests that the average person unknowingly passes at least 16 murderers on the street in their lifetime. But, as The Clovehitch Killer explores, a cold-blooded monster could be closer than you think. Maybe even living under the same roof.
More than ten years ago, a small Kentucky town was devastated when ten women were murdered by the dreaded Clovehitch Killer— named after the specific knot used to strangle each of the victims. The killer was never caught and the trail went cold years ago. But, for the most part, the community has been able to heal and everyone has returned their normal lives.
“A cold-blooded monster could be closer than you think. Maybe even living under the same roof.”
Tyler Burnside (played by Charlie Plummer) was only a child when the murders took place. Now a teenager, he can barely remember when the town was thrown into a state of fear and chaos. For a teenager, Tyler is quite well-behaved: he regularly attends church, goes to boy scout meetings and volunteers at the food drive. He has a reputation to maintain, since his father Don (Dylan McDermott) is the scout leader.
One night, Tyler sneaks out and borrows his dad’s pickup truck to impress a girl. But their date comes to an abrupt end when she finds a picture of a woman in bondage on the floor of the truck. Tyler swears it’s not his, but by the next day, a rumor is already going around that Tyler is a pervert. Even his best friend is too disgusted to hear his side of the story. What was such a picture doing in his dad’s truck? The whole incident sparks an idea in Tyler’s head that his dad is hiding something. Could his father’s possible interest with bondage porn and knowledge of tying knots connect him to the infamous Clovehitch Killer?
Vilified from the rest of the community, Tyler reaches out to the local weird girl. Kassi (Madisen Beaty) is seen as a pariah due to her atheism and morbid fascination with the Clovehitch murders. But Tyler needs answers, and Kassi conveniently has access to case files from the police investigation from a decade ago. Together, they study the killer’s method and patterns, in the event he strikes again.
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Earlier this year, I saw a similar premise in Summer of ‘84, where a teenage boy suspects that his next door neighbor is a serial killer. His suspicions are met with dismissal and apathy from the adults around him, so it’s up to the youth to crack the case. But in the case of the Clovehitch Killer, the stakes are a lot higher. If the truth is as Tyler has feared, it could spell disaster for his family and the community at large.
The modus operandi of the Clovehitch Killer mimics that of the real-life BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) Strangler. True crime fans familiar with the story will recognize the many parallels found throughout the film. It goes to show that this could happen in any small town in America.
Just a side note– being interested in BDSM shouldn’t immediately equate anyone with being a serial killer, especially if it only involves viewing pictures of bondage. This film offers a social commentary of a society that is put off by anything outside the norm, including anything outside of marital vanilla sex. It’s important to maintain a righteous appearance or risk being judged and shunned.
Dylan McDermott stands out as the patriarch of the Burnside family. I forgot I was watching the handsome actor with chiseled abs. Instead, I was seeing a typical suburban dad, complete with dad jokes and a dad-bod. As a community leader, Don reflects the rest of the town. On the surface, it’s innocent and God-fearing, but digging a bit deeper reveals a darker secret. You can see the same darkness in Don’s eyes as the camera lingers on him.
The day-to-day activities of the Burnsides came off as familiar and relatable. I also grew up in a family that went to church, said grace at the dinner table and listened to sermons on tape. It got a bit too real for me when Don decides to have an awkward sex talk with his son, telling him that God does not want Tyler to “desecrate his body.” The only difference is that I can say with all certainty that there are no serial killers in my family.
“[W]ith The Clovehitch Killer, there are no warnings. Everything remains uncertain. The horror unfolds before our very eyes. The tension is built up organically without relying on tired devices.”
In a nice change, the rhythm of the film doesn’t fall into the same predictability of most thrillers. We often listen for cues in the score to prepare us for the scare to come. Whereas with The Clovehitch Killer, there are no warnings. Everything remains uncertain. The horror unfolds before our very eyes. The tension is built up organically without relying on tired devices.
The Clovehitch Killer slowly peels away the facade of the all-American family living inside the Bible Belt. It’s not hard to believe that a stranger on the street, or a next door neighbor could be a killer. But the second we begin to suspect the people we know and love, our entire worldview will come crashing down.
The Clovehitch Killer held its East Coast Premiere at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. It hits theaters on November 16th.