REVIEW: Clock (2023)

Dianna Agron in CLOCK — PHOTO: 20th Digital Studio / Hulu / Disney+.

Directed by Alexis Jacknow — Screenplay by Alexis Jacknow.

Alexis Jacknow’s Clock follows Ella (played by Dianna Agron), a woman constantly questioned for not wanting children of her own, as she decides to check herself into a clinical trial for cognitive therapy that could kickstart her biological clock. However, after having undergone behavioral therapy, Ella starts having these terrifying visions that interrupt her daily life and shake her to her core.

From what I understand, Clock is the feature-length directorial debut from actress-turned-director Alexis Jacknow, who supposedly adapted a short film of the same name into this feature film (and I can definitely see how this might be better suited as a short film). It is a story with worthwhile messages at the center of it. This is a film about how social norms have made people — especially women — who don’t want children feel alienated or even ostracized. As someone in his very-late twenties without a child, I can fully relate to the idea that there is significant pressure put onto you by society as a whole but also by the culture you grew up in or, for some, perhaps even the family that raised you. However, I can only imagine how much more pressure is on women to ultimately raise children.

This film does a good job of focusing on that pressure, even though they hammer the message home to such an extent that the aim of the film becomes rather unsubtle. In one of the film’s opening scenes, a group of women basically gang up on the film’s lead to ask her what she does all day, if she isn’t worrying about starting a family. Frankly, not wanting children is a very normal thing, but it is something that society frowns at, and this film goes to great lengths to emphasize that, to some, ‘not wanting children’ means something inside of you is broken, and we do need to talk about that misconception.

However, even though this message is well-expressed (but also unsubtle), I must say that it does almost feel like the film was only made to get this conversation started in households that watch the film. I say this because the film’s actual horror elements — and this is a psychological horror flick after all — are not very strong. There are some disturbing images here and there, such as the opening scene of a woman hanging herself at a playground, but once the film’s protagonist begins cognitive behavioral therapy the subsequent horror elements are quite stale and ineffective. There’s a Rorschach test- esque scene that plays out in a way that showcases video-gamey and unconvincing visual effects when it probably would’ve been smarter to not show visions in this early scene, but rather only show Agron’s reaction to seeing something.

Once Dianna Agron’s character leaves therapy, the horror elements — an almost inhumanly tall shadowy woman, dark spiders, and a jump-scare with a woman having her mouth agape — become quite generic, as the film eventually moves into a somewhat over-the-top third act. The film tries to comment on Agron’s Jewish heritage, but I’m not sure that element of the film worked all that well (it certainly felt a little underdeveloped, to me). As for Agron, I thought she delivered a competent performance — she really tries to sell this, but actors like Melora Hardin and Saul Rubinek do not get a lot to work with.

I was hoping that Clock would be something more along the lines of Gore Verbinski’s creepy, fascinating, and rewatchable A Cure for Wellness (for a moment there, I even thought it might go in the direction of Jens Dahl’s Danish torture porn flick Breeder), but it never even gets close to being all that memorable. Though the important intended message of the film does come across (even though it is somewhat unsubtly delivered), Alexis Jacknow’s feature-length directorial debut fails to work well as a horror film. The horror elements are generic, visually unconvincing, and stale, the twists feel relatively predictable, and the film feels much too slow. Agron’s performance is fine, but, outside of the performance and the film’s message, Clock is a relatively bland and forgettable psychological horror film.

4 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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