The Clovehitch Killer
By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Boy senses his dad is a serial killer; sexualized violence.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The most moralistic, religious, and upstanding among us can sometimes be battling demons that result in antisocial, dangerous behavior. Bad things happen to good people.
Positive Role Models
Charlie is a bright, curious, respectful, and obedient son who wants to protect his family. Donald is an evil sociopath.
Violence & Scariness
The movie has lots of sexualized violence. Thirteen women were tortured and murdered by a serial killer. A man struggles to fight the urge to kidnap, bind, torture, and kill innocent women. We see photos of women bound and gagged. A woman is tied up, bound, and gagged, trussed so she can't move. A plastic bag is placed over her head. The kidnapper takes pictures of her. A boy points a rifle at his father. Someone smashes a lamp over an aggressor's head to subdue him. People take a wrapped body to a secluded spot in the woods.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Bare breasts are seen briefly in a photograph. While none of the victims were raped, the killer seems to derive sexual pleasure from the bondage and torture he puts his victims through. He also cross-dresses, seemingly to achieve enough sexual satisfaction to avoid having to go out and kill again. A man tries to have sex with his wife, but apologizes for being impotent. Two teens kiss. Someone accuses a teen boy of being in "the closet." A father lectures his teen son that bodies are made "in God's image" and are therefore "holy" and not to be "desecrated," calling the fantasies boys sometimes have akin to those of a "sex-crazed monkey." A girl sarcastically asks a boy to "whip it out."
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"F--k," "s--t," "hell," "damn," "SOB," "butt," and "slut."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Clovehitch Killer of the title is a serial killer partially based on a true-life "BTK" (bind, torture, kill) killer. This one is named after a favorite knot he likes to tie. Unlike many such stories told from the point of view of police chasing clues down, this one shows us the killer as family man, successfully hiding his secret as he goes to church and leads his son's Boy Scout troop. This may appeal to teens as the protagonist is a teen son who follows his suspicions about his father's role in 13 murders. Some pictures of the victims reveal they were bound and tortured before they were killed. Most disturbing for viewers of any age is the depiction of an abduction in progress. While actual rape isn't an element of the abduction-murders, the crimes clearly reflect that the killer in some sense is sexually aroused by his acts and his victims' powerlessness, fear, and distress. A man cross-dresses and tries to tie himself up, seemingly to achieve the sexual rush the murders provided for him. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "hell," "damn," "SOB," "butt," and "slut." Bare breasts are seen briefly in a photograph.
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The Clovehitch Killer
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What's the Story?
A small Kentucky town vividly remembers being terrified years back when THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER was on his 13-victim killing spree, a spree that mercifully stopped ten years before. Earnest Boy Scout Tyler (Charlie Plummer) comes to suspect that his dad, Donald (Dylan McDermott), Scout leader, churchgoer, and grace-saying community leader, is a ruthless, perverse killer of innocent women. Tyler soon discovers his dad has a hidden cache of pictures of women in bondage and, worse yet, a hidden collection of the victims' driver's licenses. Smooth-talking Donald claims Tyler's paraplegic uncle was the killer. Speechless and confined to a wheelchair, he's already been punished enough, Donald argues. Why bring shame on the family by going to the police? Tyler wants to believe and, ever loyal to the family, he keeps the secret. But his friend and neighbor Kassi (Madisen Beaty), a girl with a personal connection to the Clovehitch murders, is skeptical. Together they secretly track Donald as he plots a new attack.
Is It Any Good?
This movie grabs you right away, giving us a 16-year-old narrator who has skills of observation, meticulousness, self reliance, and preparedness, as instilled in him by his Scout leader dad. Telling the story from the point of view of a naïve observer following his suspicions is a clever conceit, and leaves us rooting for a confused boy and also concerned for his safety.
Performances by Plummer and McDermott are excellent and go a long way toward helping us forget the gaping holes in the movie's otherwise-absorbing narrative. A crime victim has the opportunity to call the police but doesn't. A witness also has the chance but doesn't. Finally, the movie doesn't do much to explain why it's better to take punishment of a criminal into one's own hands rather than to turn that criminal over to the authorities. Still, older teens who can handle the mature content are likely to be sucked into the story.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about what a teen can do when he or she discovers a parent is behaving badly or illegally. What do you think of the way Tyler handled his discovery?
Instead of being remorseful when caught, Donald scolds his son for breaking family rules. What does this show us about Donald? Do you think he'll ever admit his wrongs and take responsibility for his actions? Why or why not?
How do you think it affects a child to learn a respected parent is a perpetrator of heinous crimes?
- In theaters: November 16, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: March 5, 2019
- Cast: Dylan McDermott, Charlie Plummer, Madisen Beaty
- Director: Duncan Skiles
- Studio: IFC Midnight
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 25, 2023
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