‘Wrinkles the Clown’ Unmasks a Modern Boogeyman in This Delightfully Delusive Documentary [Fantastic Fest 2019]

Wrinkles the Clown Review

Plastered around telephone poles, buildings, and ice cream trucks in South Florida, you’ll find stickers of a clown with hollowed-out eyes, thick red lips, and a phone number under his withered face. This is Wrinkles. Legend has it that the masked clown is out to provide a service terrorizing disobedient children. Over the past few years, Wrinkles has become folklore personified. Thanks to the hyperactive age of social media, the diabolic clown is pure nightmare fuel for naughty children but a breath of fresh air for parents in need of alternative disciplinary methods. Directed by Michael Beach Nichols, Wrinkles the Clown (watch the trailer here) introduces audiences to the man behind the mask and explores society’s dark fascination with his disturbing omnipresence. 

Like all things that go viral, it all started with a video. On YouTube, a video entitled “Wrinkles the Clown Caught on CCTV” surfaced back in 2014 featuring Wrinkles slowly emerging from under a little girl’s bed while she was sleeping. He then stands over here, gently places a stuffed animal by her side, and walks towards the camera to turn it off. It’s one creepy situation that ignited the legend surrounding the clown to this day.

Nichols opens the documentary with a serious tone as a police officer speaks about the grave concern surrounding Wrinkles’ presence because people may feel threatened or act in ways they may otherwise not behave. However, the structure and tone of the documentary are not consistent. Voice-over narration, interviews, and re-enactment or theoretical sequences are sprinkled throughout. There’s also ample footage of video clips featuring talk show hosts and news anchors alerting viewers of a mysterious clown roaming the streets, stalking children like prey. Once the sensation of his reach is established, we are introduced to the man behind the red and white polka dot suit and latex mask. Concealing his face and speaking in a character voice, “Wrinkles” welcomes audiences into his world.

Looking like an off-season Santa Claus, Wrinkles is a transient who lives out of a trailer and spends a lot of his time either answering or ignoring the thousands of daily texts and phone calls. Audio of parents asking for his help while their kids are crying in the background are just as common as the death threats and calls from inquisitive children wondering if he’s real. Speaking of children, the documentary interviews three specific kids and their perspective on the clown. One of the kids is so terrified that he booby-trapped his room to prevent Wrinkles from showing up. Another actually thinks what he is doing is pretty great, and she aspires to be a clown herself by making people laugh. The last kid is a huge fan of clowns and even thinks fear is almost necessary– that it can help make people happy or relieved.

The documentary also features insightful commentary on the history of clowns. In defense of Wrinkles and Stephen King’s Pennywise, evil clowns have been around since the violent Punch and Judy puppet show which has historical roots extending to the 16th century. And who could forget the notorious John Wayne Gacy? This literal killer clown murdered at least thirty-three boys and hid their bodies under his floorboards. Now, in comparison, this makes Wrinkles seem harmless since the guy usually just stands outside people’s windows or on the side of a street at night.

The most fascinating part of the documentary is the social construct surrounding the mythos of Wrinkles. A little over halfway through the film, there is a big twist. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s fairly jarring from a production standpoint as it almost splits the documentary into two different films. It also further eclipses the truth behind who Wrinkles actually is. This deviation creates the greatest aspect of the film: the sociological and psychological impact of a personified boogeyman in modern day society. From a folklore perspective, what Wrinkles is known for is not new. Around the world and throughout time, folktales have scared kids into behaving good or learning the moral to a devastating story. Ultimately, Wrinkles is a concept more than a man, or even a boogeyman. He’s a reflection of what society’s imagination can do with a single image or a single video. He’s hated. He’s loved. And he’s feared. It’s all relative and up to the person of how they perceive him. As much as this documentary is about Wrinkles, it’s also about our culture. This is the film’s strongpoint.

Like most monsters, there’s another side that people don’t see. In many ways, the angry mob of people (aka the internet) is what turned Wrinkles into the very creature they fear. It even led to a trend of evil clowns posing a threat across the nation back in 2016. However, Wrinkles secretly has a strong moral code and is not a raving lunatic. He’ll answer calls from kids and reassure them he’s never killed anyone despite their morbid curiosities. He’s been spotted taking pictures with kids on Halloween and telling them to be good, stay in school, or just to have a nice night. Hell, he doesn’t even fully believe that using his services is the best way to go about punishing a kid.

Audiences will go into this documentary thinking one thing and leave thinking another. The narrative structure is fragmented and not entirely straight-forward for its lengthy runtime given the subject matter. However, Nichols uses the stretch to trick (and treat) audiences. Wrinkles the Clown is an intriguing magic trick of a film, filled with illusions that generate the question of how as opposed to why Wrinkles came to be the legend he is today.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10

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