Alexis Jacknow’s film about the pressures of motherhood is more unsettling that scary.
Plot: Clock is the story of a woman who enrolls in a clinical trial to try and fix her seemingly broken biological clock after friends, family, and society pressures her to have children.
Review: Some of the best horror movies are films about something other than the surface scares that draw in audiences. George Romero’s Living Dead movies were about racism, consumerism, and flesh-eating zombies. It Follows is about sexually transmitted diseases, while The Babadook is about the trauma of being a single parent. Alexis Jacknow’s film Clock, inspired by her Hulu short film of the same name, is a story about the pressures put on women to be mothers and the stress of living up to expectations. Sure, it features some chilling imagery and some jumpscares, but the underlying messages within the film are the truly frightening part and render the surface horror a little underwhelming.
Clock follows Ella Patel (Dianna Agron), a successful interior designer married to Aidan (Jay Ali). The couple is childless in their mid-thirties, while all their friends have or are expecting kids. Feeling no urge or desire to have kids, the stress begins to weigh on Ella as her best friend is due imminently. At the same time, her father, Joseph (Saul Rubinek), never ceases to remind her of her maternal responsibility to carry on their Jewish heritage. While visiting her doctor for a breast cancer screening, Ella is referred to Dr. Elizabeth Simmons (Melora Hardin). Dr. Simmons is working on experimental therapy to fix the biological clock in women who do not have the yearning or desire for motherhood. Ella decides to try therapy, where things begin to get weird.
Almost immediately, Clock delivers surreal imagery involving umbilical cords, fetuses, and a disturbingly tall woman cloaked in shadow, which appears and disappears on a whim. While Dr. Simmons seems to have a caring and maternal instinct towards her patients, Ella perceives things as more sinister than they may actually be. After she completes her therapy, Ella begins to see things differently and feels strange urges and cravings far weirder than any pregnancy I have ever heard of. As the film progresses, Ella’s mind begins to fracture as she experiences the 21st-century equivalent of the horrors Mia Farrow encountered in Rosemary’s Baby. As the running time ticks towards the film’s conclusion, the truth of what is going on becomes horrifyingly clear.
While the supporting cast, especially Jay Ali and Melora Hardin, do their best here, this film relies on Dianna Agron’s performance to anchor it. While Saul Rubinek’s character seems to be the most emotional, Agron shifts from quiet and reserved to manic and paranoid without ever seeming hysterical. Ella’s descent into madness throughout the film is an extreme example of the real weight put on women to have children. The script consistently makes the phrase “baby crazy” seem like insanity but never pushes the characters into satire or parody. Instead, it makes them seem like pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The paranoia element works best in Clock, making the film eerie and very unsettling. The ideas related to myths and cultural mores tied to pregnancy within the Jewish faith are peppered into the story and offer an angle not often portrayed in genre films.
When the end credits rolled on Clock, I was struck by the message in Alexis Jacknow’s story more than the film’s horror elements. Three key moments in the film had me cringing in anticipation for what the filmmaker would hint at versus what she actually showed on screen. In one case, I am glad she didn’t follow through on what I was expecting, and in the other two, I wish I could unsee what I saw. In all three cases, the anxiety Jacknow builds is intense and leaves me feeling relieved when each sequence ends. Those scenes work because they are driven by defiance of what most horror movies would do in those moments. The rest of the scares in Clock are more conventional and fall a bit short of being scary because they pale in comparison to the aforementioned scenes and come off as a bit cliche and expected.
Vastly different from her original short film (watchable in the embed above), Alexis Jacknow has made a competent horror film. When viewed less for jumpscares and the formulaic black-clad ghost monsters, Clock succeeds far more as a chilling look at the pressures of pregnancy and what it means to be a woman in modern society. Some genuine and hard-to-watch moments in Clock worked for me, and some attempts at scares that do not. Overall, this is a well-made movie that should promote some difficult conversations, even if it doesn’t necessarily succeed in the ways you would expect. Be prepared, as you cannot unsee a few things in this movie that you cannot unsee.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/clock-review/