You do not have to ask too many people before coming across someone who is scared of clowns. Though they are often used to bring laughter and joy, for many clowns are a source of fear. This became apparent in 2014, when someone named Wrinkles the Clown was caught on a closed circuit camera. The video went viral and created a new urban legend that swept the county. Wrinkles the Clown is a documentary that tries to find out just who Wrinkles really is and why he scares people so much.
A number of children and parents are interviewed for the doc. This is a great idea as it is primarily among children the fear of Wrinkles exists. The kids are clearly terrified of the clown which is exhibited in many different ways. From simply being frightened to discussing what they would do to defend themselves, every child who spoke to director Michael Beach Nichols had strong feelings about Wrinkles. The film does an excellent job of showing the various ways that fear manifests itself.
One of the themes of Wrinkles the Clown is the power of social media. The menace that is Wrinkles spread almost entirely through the internet. All of the kids not only talk about seeing the scary clown on YouTube, they also have channels themselves. There is a great moment comprised of various YouTube clips of children calling Wrinkles. (The phone number is still active for anyone interested.) Many of the interviews were conducted through Skype, further showing the importance of technology.
Parents are not entirely absent, though they are seen less. In many cases they are treated as villains. One parent uses phone calls to Wrinkles to scare his young daughter when she is acting up. These threats are somewhat funny until the parent asks the viral clown to come eat his daughter. While this will still illicit laughter, it is not of the “ha-ha” variety. There are also articles and interviews talking about how Wrinkles has been hired by parents.
These moments are amusing, but they beg a serious question. The parent who asked Wrinkles to make a meal out of his daughter states matter of factly, what they are doing is not child abuse. A child psychologist who is interviewed states otherwise. It is an interesting point of contention and surprising that so little time is spent on it. Aside from that one moment, the only other time the subject is addressed is when Wrinkles says what he does may be bad, but that is between the parents and the children.
Nichols and his crew were able to track down Wrinkles for the documentary. The interviews with the infamous clown are some of the best and worst moments of the film. Early on, the clown is unapologetic about what he does. He is frank and it is very entertaining. He refers to his work frightening children as “behavioral teaching” and explains he does everything for money. It also is hilarious when he talks about why he chose his mask.
Later in the film, he is very serious and tedious. He spews a pseudo philosophy comparing what he does to religion telling people they will burn in Hell if they are evil. There is a feigned sadness when he talks about the popularity of scary clowns. He sounds disingenuous when he states how much it would pain him if someone was hurt in the name of Wrinkles. Worst of all, he refers to his work as Wrinkles as a “project”. He is trying hard to make it seem like some creative piece of art when it is little more than a silly prank. There is a good reason for this change, but it is still hard to watch.
What is worse is Wrinkles the Clown does not seem to know what it wants to be. Is it supposed to be commentary on the ridiculous lengths modern society lets things get out of hand? Or maybe it is about how we tend to believe most things on social media even when ignoring the children who first led us to them. Is it just a comedy? The movie is very funny at times, but it also tries to tackle the urban legends and human nature in a serious matter. The end result is the whole thing seems disjointed.
It is good to see a serious attempt to make a documentary about a viral sensation. YouTube is filled with “Whatever happened to…?” videos, but those tend to be straight commentary. Wrinkles the Clown has an interesting premise. Using children as the main subject matter experts is also a smart choice. While not flawless, it is definitely worth the time.
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