Wrinkles the Clown, directed by Michael Beach Nichols, is the latest documentary to explore a viral phenomenon, showing that everything is not what it seems. An effective blend of documentary and horror elements, the unorthodox style may alienate purists of nonfiction cinema, but will also allow this film to break out into the mainstream.
The film explores the viral phenomenon that is Wrinkles, a man who dresses up in a creepy clown costume and allows parents to hire him in order to scare their misbehaving children. However, within a few minutes of the film beginning, viewers will likely begin to pick up on the fact that something more is going on, kicking off the wild ride that this documentary offers.
Clocking in at under an hour and twenty minutes, the film is definitely very fast-paced, especially because the film attempts (and mostly succeeds) to juggle multiple different tones and approaches to the story. Since there are so many moving parts in the film, particularly during the second half, the story will always keep the interest of viewers.
Some of the most interesting parts of the film are those which explore the ethical implications of Wrinkles’s business. The filmmakers are able to present the argument in a way that is surprisingly neutral. Much of the film’s discussion of whether or not what Wrinkles does should be considered a form of child abuse is delivered via interviews, both with parents who used Wrinkles’s services and experts who discuss the potential psychological consequences of this on the children.
Perhaps most interesting about the film is that it does not portray Wrinkles as the hero or villain of the story. Instead, the film shows him as nothing more than a person doing his job. For obvious reasons, his identity needs to be kept anonymous, but the obscured interviews in which he participates are quite interesting and insightful as to what Wrinkles believes regarding this whole process.
The only real issue with the film is that Nichols’s style could have used some additional subtlety. Because of the way in which the first half is shot, viewers will likely be able to figure out the direction in which the rest of the film is heading. Still, the blend of archive footage and interviews from Wrinkles, bystanders, and others is an effective way of delivering the story and its content.
Additionally, the film features some segments with horror-like imagery that builds the film’s atmosphere. These sequences, featuring footage from Wrinkles’s exploits in addition to some dramatizations of Wrinkles acting creepy as is being described in interviews. Though these images are unlikely to stick in one’s mind. they do have the intended immediate impact.
Though definitely not a traditional documentary, Wrinkles the Clown is an unexpected and enjoyable viewing experience. Thanks to an insane story and the filmmaker’s unique approach to telling it, this will remain in the conversation for quite a while.
Wrinkles the Clown is now in theaters and on VOD.