Imagine you are stumbling around YouTube at midnight, jumping from creepy video to creepy video. You spy one that looks like CCTV footage; a child sleeps in a bed with a drawer below. Within moments, the drawer gives way enough for a gloved hand to pop out. Moments later the creepy clown beneath the bed is revealed.
But why imagine when you can see it right now?
Of course, this had to go viral, and viral it went. The video exploded across the US. This was alongside creepy stickers depicting the wrinkled visage of the clown, aptly named Wrinkles, alongside a working phone number. This of course eventually inspired a rash of coulrophobic sightings and reactions to creepy clowns throughout 2015 and 2016.
The person behind the original Wrinkles prank and several others since is still unknown. However, a documentary shines a greasy spotlight on the performance art nature of the whole project.
A Documentary of Performance Art
The 2019 documentary Wrinkles the Clown is a bit of an impish trick. Director Michael Beach Nichols pulls one over on the audience by playing into the whole performance art of the original creator of the Wrinkles character.
The documentary, initially, is presented as the reveal of the identity of the reported 65-year-old man who would travel around Florida scaring children for frustrated parents. The concept sounds ridiculous enough to feel true and it is no wonder the documentary commits early on to play this story out. And in truth, it absolutely works.
The “actual” Wrinkles does not want to be seen on camera, and given his work and the calls he gets, it makes sense. It’s all very believable. About halfway through, however, you see the revelation of the deception: the film has been tricking you. I dare not spoil it any further.
For a documentary, there is a substantial level of creepiness. The unsettling imagery of Wrinkles stalking Florida’s suburban streets and dark shadowy corners are well shot. Combined with the visually authentic viral videos, this film is not something for those who find clowns to be terrifying.
The film itself is a strange beast; it is a two-stage performance piece and as a whole, it works. While the first half feels stronger and perhaps what we all want to see deep down, the second half does deliver some interesting ideas. It’s just not as interesting as the idea of the van-roaming clown scaring kids for money.
The viral reactions to Wrinkles in the first “half” of the film are also the far more impactful and ultimately more terrifying elements. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t build off of these.
The film largely feels less like a cohesive whole but rather something done to extend the existing Wrinkles project. Sure, there are answers, but it’s not even the answers that matter, it is more about what the film is trying to say.
The documentary approaches something close to a central thesis discussing modern folklore and the equivocation of the Wrinkles character to viral childhood horrors like Bloody Mary. It just doesn’t go far enough and lacks a sort of cohesion that can appropriately deliver on this topic.
In truth, the most interesting part of the documentary is the one that is sort of glossed over to a degree. “Wrinkles” expresses dismay at the violent voicemails and texts he receives all of which are highly disturbing. The film could have spent a lot more time on this element, though maybe it would have become an entirely different documentary. What does it say about today’s children who contact a person they find online and leave threatening messages of violence and assault? How are we not having a national conversation about kids threatening to shoot strangers based on online hearsay?
The documentary just barely scratches the surface of the spree of clown sightings in 2015 and 2016 as well. It has very little say beyond the artist behind Wrinkles slightly concerned for his own reputation in the off-chance something goes wrong.
As interesting as Wrinkles the Clown is there is a lack of substance. I found myself asking other questions throughout that seemed… more important.
I admit that I tend to hold documentary filmmaking to somewhat higher standards than a lot of films. I have a fascination with documentaries and love when they tackle the strange and spooky. In exploring this art piece with an anonymous artist, the film glosses over some profound questions. It is more concerned with the medium of the clown character rather than broader questions.
While Wrinkles the Clown is entertaining I can’t say it’s a great documentary. Merely a fun one.(3 / 5)
Scared yet? Check out more of our reviews at Haunted MTL.