Wrinkles the Clown Review: A Fascinating Exploration Into Folklore in the Digital Age

Thanks in large part to Pennywise the Dancing Clown, movie audiences are more frightened than ever of clowns, as their playful smiles meant to inspire joy are instead considered a frightening facade meant to hide an inner darkness. Luckily, fans can remember that Pennywise is a fictional character, removing him of all his power, while Wrinkles the Clown is so real that you can reach him on the phone when he's not lurking the streets of suburban Florida communities. While the documentary Wrinkles the Clown effectively elucidates on the facts behind the persona's fictional mythology, which includes offering to show up at parties to intimidate your children, the film also touches upon the cultural fear of clowns, urban legends, and how the internet has impacted frightening folklore.

A series of viral videos helped birth the legend of Wrinkles, depicting him emerging from under a bed and hiding in a family's backyard bushes, with stickers spreading around Florida that encourage you to call up the performer if you'd like him to terrify your child if they misbehave. Much more real than any character from a movie, the film conducts interviews with Wrinkles himself and select individuals who have contacted the clown, aiming to uncover how he came to be, what makes him so fascinating, and whether or not he really hid underneath a young girl's bed.

The film manages to effectively explore the mystery of the figure, but it does so much more than merely interview a guy who likes to dress up as a creepy clown. While some viewers might experience coulrophobia–the irrational fear of clowns–down to their core, the film explores the long history of clowns and jesters in pop culture and how that may have subconsciously impacted people for decades. Not only is it educational, but it could also alert audiences to experiences with clowns in media which they hadn't realized they had at some point in their lives, potentially enlightening them to the root of their own fear of clowns.

The much more fascinating element of the documentary is its exploration of the digital age of folklore. Generations of kids grew up fearing a Boogeyman, who represented all manner of terrifying experiences, while also touching upon urban legend staples like Bloody Mary and, more recently, the Slenderman. Prior to the rise of the internet, kids doubted that these figures existed, yet couldn't help but be frightened by them as there was no proof they didn't exist, as every friend of a cousin of a neighbor had reportedly actually encountered them. The world wide web has made it easier to debunk these figures or, in the case of the Slenderman, cement their legacy with doctored photos and videos. The ease of which someone can concoct a hoax in our culture would lead some to be even more doubtful of seemingly objective "facts" we read online, instead of growing more cynical about internet rumors.

What makes Wrinkles so fascinating, as confirmed by the documentary, is that he exists somewhere between the world of fact and fiction. He tangibly exists and can seemingly be contacted over the phone, while videos and photos of him pop up across the internet, but you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who has actually encountered him. This works to the benefit of the figure as his existence is confirmed, while also clearly stating that he doesn't do any actual harm. Or at least, no physical harm, just plenty of psychological damage.

One of the more interesting points of the film stems from what inspires parents to call Wrinkles, as dozens of voicemails confirm they really do leave him messages, all while we can hear children screeching from fear in the background. As a psychologist argues that this is a form of abuse, an actual parent who has called upon the help of Wrinkles details how this threat isn't any more sadistic than claiming a misbehaving child could go to Hell and be tormented by the Devil. Wrinkles, meanwhile, absolves himself of any wrongdoing, claiming he's merely doing his job.

The moment that Wrinkles the Clown truly exemplifies its point comes halfway through the film and a shocking reveal is made. While we won't spoil the details of this narrative, well, wrinkle, it reminds us that we can be presented any number of stories and believe in what we're actually seeing, but that it's ultimately up to each individual to determine whether they buy in to the legends we encounter or see them for the ruse they really are.

Despite the documentary's subjects calling for violence towards Wrinkles, he's neither a hero nor a villain, he's just a guy doing his job. It would only make sense, then, that the documentary exploring the figure would do its job of posing the question to viewers if seeing really is believing and leaving us to wonder whether or not fact is more dangerous than fiction.

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Rating: 4 out of 5

Wrinkles the Clown lands in select theaters on October 4th.