The new documentary, Wrinkles the Clown, provides an unexpected look at the mythology that not only helped birth Wrinkles, but also the entire 2016 creepy clown phenomenon that swept the country. Director Michael Beach Nichols has created a film that mixes myth and imagination with reality, leaving you guessing about just what’s fact and what’s fiction. By the end, you’re on surer ground, but left a little unsettled. It’s a great ride that provides compelling insights into the clown and the myth.
(Note to parents: this isn’t a kids’ friendly documentary. About 38 minutes into the movie, there’s a scene with nudity in a strip club. If you’re watching at home and want your kids to watch it too, I suggest watching the movie first and finding a way to skip over that part. There’s also some strong language and a couple scary scenes sensitive kids might find disturbing, so give it a watch first and then decide.)
WARNING: This review will have MAJOR spoilers for a plot twist in the documentary. Only read on if you’re OK being spoiled.
The first half of the documentary is entertaining and, at times, a bit campy. And really, that’s perfectly fitting for a documentary about a man who dresses up as a clown and claims to be paid to scare children.
The movie begins with someone driving a van in a thunderstorm as scary music plays. Then we see clips of Wrinkles, including this one that went viral on YouTube.
We meet adults who are excited to see Wrinkles and we hear clips of voicemails from parents threatening their children that they’ll call Wrinkles if they’re not good.
The documentary is a mix of myth, thoughtful analysis from academics, and surprising real-life moments. After we meet parents who love to keep their kids in line by threatening to call Wrinkles, we meet a thoughtful psychology professor who is very disturbed by these actions. “It’s… a form of child abuse,” he muses as he listens to the recordings.
We also get to see some interesting interviews with kids in different parts of the country, as they talk about their opinions on Wrinkles. The kids who get the main focus are kind of obsessed with Wrinkles. One child had to put his mattress on the floor because he was so scared, and another child wants to dress up as a clown all the time. At times you might be tempted to skip their interviews. I suggest not doing that. It lends to the greater storyline threaded through the movie. And if you skip, you’ll miss some adorable scenes between a little girl and her amazingly tame rabbit.
Of course, most interesting part is the older man with the balding head who lives in a van. He says he will only talk to the camera as Wrinkles and won’t reveal his identity. But we learn a lot about him anyway. We see him having a cookout by a river, we see him staying in a dirty motel and listening to voicemails while wearing a food-stained shirt, and we watch him living a nomad’s life as he takes on gigs to scare kids.
Scaring kids? “That’s a contract between me and mom and dad,” he says gruffly. “It’s nobody else’s business. I’m just doing my job.”
Mixed with all of this are weird scenes of Wrinkles carrying a girl out of her bedroom, of Wrinkles covered in blood, and of Wrinkles being pursued by the police…
That’s when everything comes crashing down.
[Major spoilers are coming next about a plot twist…]
Everything’s turned upside down a little more than halfway through the film. We learn that Wrinkles isn’t really Wrinkles. Wrinkles is an actor, and the real Wrinkles is someone else entirely.
His full image is blurred and his voice is changed. We learn that he’s good with video and computers, but everything else was made up.
Wrinkles was never hired by any parent. He’s not a 65-year-old veteran. His accent is fake. He made it all up. It started with an interview with a local news station and then snowballed from there. And he went with it.
Now everything else in the movie makes sense. The story about Wrinkles that we believed ended up being just as made up as the blood-covered Wrinkles scenes. We do learn some interesting tidbits about Wrinkles, but enough is leftover that we, the viewers, can still create our own mythos when we go home.
Meanwhile, children are making up their own myths too, with some believing he’s fun and nice, while others think he’s killing children. (He never did that or claimed to do that. It’s unclear where that rumor got started. Meanwhile, children are calling Wrinkles and leaving voicemails with death threats. That might be one of the more disturbing parts of the documentary.)
The documentary is an interesting ride. If you’re debating whether it’s one worth taking, I would suggest definitely going on the journey.