By Josh Reilly B. & George Bate
A number of horror films have explored terrifying fears of and circumstances surrounding pregnancy and birth, but perhaps none quite as heavy-handedly as Clock. The new horror film from 20th Digital Studio, which recently debuted on Hulu in the U.S. and on Disney+ internationally, is an expansion of a short film of the same and is written and directed by Alexis Jacknow. The film follows Ella Patel (played by Glee’s Dianna Agron), whose lack of desire for having children is at odds with societal and familial expectations. In an effort to fix her seemingly broken biological clock, Ella enrolls in an unorthodox clinical trial led by Dr. Elizabeth Simmons (played by The Office’s Melora Hardin).
The likes of Rosemary’s Baby and, even more recently, the Hulu original film False Positive intelligently and deftly use concepts like childbirth and motherhood, often portrayed in a warm and endearing light, to craft stories of unimaginable pain, physical and mental distressing, and loss of autonomy. While Clock dabbles in a similarly horrifying distortion of childbirth and motherhood, its on-the-nose approach leaves little to the imagination and even less to interpretation. A scene early in the film sees Dianna Agron’s character Ella at a baby shower surrounded by several of her friends. An initially friendly and jovial conversation becomes uncomfortable when Ella’s friends inquire about the prospect of Ella and her husband Aidan (played by Daredevil’s Jay Ali) having children of their own. When Ella pushes back against this notion, she is berated and made to feel unnatural and broken by her friends. Clock is filled to the brim with similarly heavy-handed scenes that portray the pressure of motherhood Ella faces with a glaring lack of subtlety.
This lack of subtlety is amplified by Clock’s over-reliance on hallucinogenic imagery, which collectively make for an experience in which the audience is bombarded with visual metaphors. As Ella enrolls in the clinical trial with the aim of increasing her desire to have children, she experiences disturbing hallucinations, including the figure of a tall woman and spiders, in addition to a craving for raw eggs. Not only are these hallucinations far too overt, but they’re also used as the film’s primary means to scare. It’s not long into the film that the barrage of hallucinogenic imagery becomes too much and the horror film teeters on satire.
Clock introduces an array of thought-provoking ideas and concepts, but it simply doesn’t come together into a cohesive tale. Ella’s visceral fears of motherhood are unsettling, and the film opens the door for this to be explored in some fairly interesting ways. Instead, what could have been a deft examination of oppressive societal and familial pressures for women regarding motherhood fizzles out to a meandering 91 minutes of Ella’s deterioration concluding in a painfully predictable third act twist.
Clock more successfully tackles the intersectionality of motherhood, religion, and race, however. Ella is Jewish, whereas her husband Aidan comes from a Pakistani background. The film carefully and subtly touches on how Ella’s religious identity and her interracial marriage intersect with themes of motherhood and childbirth.
Regarding other strengths, Clock does bolster some solid performances, in particular Dianna Agron in the lead role. Agron delivers a performance worthy of a more polished film and, at times, is almost single-handedly responsible for retaining audience interest. Melora Hardin also does well as Dr. Simmons, the physician overseeing the experimental clinical trial. There’s a lot of potential for this character and, in turn, for Hardin to take her performance in some unexpected directions, but, unfortunately, none of this comes to fruition.
Clock is a new horror film streaming on Hulu that fails to capitalize on its horrifying premise. The latest in a string of horror films revolving around childbirth and motherhood, this new original film starkly lacks subtlety in its handling of relevant themes related to the oppressive pressures women face. An over-reliance on hallucinogenic imagery and a plot that unfolds far too predictably are somewhat offset by a strong lead performance by Glee’s Dianna Agron. But, if someone is looking for a horror film about pregnancy and childbirth, check out Rosemary’s Baby.