As a man slowly walks toward a bridge, a creature lurks in the shadows. The silhouette never attempts to hide itself from its prey, but soon it’s revealed the prey is aware of the hunter. With an unnerving cold open, The Jester makes a strong case to draw your attention. Based on a series of YouTube shorts created by director Colin Krawchuk, many would quickly assume it’s linked to Terrifier. However, with nearly a decade of shorts in the book, The Jester finally gets a showcase. The result is a mixed bag. It showcases Krawchuk’s talent as a visual storyteller but stumbles with disconnected kills.
After the death of their father, John (Matt Servitto), step sisters Emma (Lelia Symington) and Jocelyn (Delaney White) are forced to reconnect. Emma hated her father after he left her mother. Jocelyn grew up with him and struggles to move on after his death. As the two step-siblings fight amongst themselves, a shadowy monster known as “The Jester” (Michael Sheffield) follows them.
Krawchuk shines when forcing his characters to confront the dark and complicated emotions of their situation. When people die, those left behind rarely feel purely good or negative feelings, and too often, movies paint with one brush. While The Jester loops in the audience with the promise of absurd horror, Krawchuk brings enough emotional gravitas to keep us hooked.
However, the emotional aspects of The Jester do not run through the entire narrative. Instead, we get a series of kills, violent acts, and Jester “tricks” to get to our 90-minute runtime. Most of these moments embrace a more supernatural monster, but the silent clown killer strongly resembles Art the Clown. These comparisons are unavoidable, even as the kills showcase more creativity than aspects of those movies. There’s gore, sure, but there’s also some real creativity in how it showcases organ removal or decapitation (both of which occur).
Other moments pull from recent horror based on trauma. It’s become the basis of plenty of horror films and thus has been played out by the genre. Unfortunately, building from this place makes aspects of The Jester feel tired. Rather than dig deeper into these ideas, examining trauma or missing parents feels surface level. The performances from Symington and White bring genuine heart into the events. Most importantly, Krawchuk lets long sequences unfold and shows an eye for blocking few filmmakers possess. This allows The Jester to rise above its fairly basic examination of trauma, but it still holds back the feature as a whole.
The Jester will not change horror in the future, but it certainly has plenty of good scares. With enough set pieces to keep entertained and a strong narrative backbone, there’s a lot to love. However, without extending that narrative, the holes are filled with some cliche horror tropes. With a more complete story, The Jester might have surpassed similar horror films. Still, it makes for an intriguing, if imperfect feature debut.