In 2014, the eerie surveillance footage of a demented looking clown known as Wrinkles appearing from beneath a sleeping child’s bed had spread across the internet faster than you could say Bloody Mary three times.

The terrifying footage, which has accumulated just shy of one million views, reveals society’s odd fascination with fear. The resulting popularity of Wrinkles would go on to influence not only a series of follow-up videos, including candid footage of Wrinkles out on the streets and terrorising other families, but influencing an era of pop-culture-obsessed with disturbed clowns. (2019 alone having a sequel to It (2017) and a Scorcessian inspired take on the Joker).

Wrinkles actuality sets him apart from other digital folklore, with viral sensations including Salad Fingers, Slenderman and Jeffree Star (okay, maybe not him) looking cuddly in comparison to this petrifying figure.  

The crux of Wrinkle’s existence, depicted in director Michael Beach Nichols subversive doco Wrinkles the Clown, offers more than the mere unmasking of an anonymous figure who has built a career on scaring children. As enticing as that sounds, Nichols instead uses the dais to investigate deeper questions on news legitimacy and the virality of fear. The end product culminating in a satisfying piece of timely documentary filmmaking.

From the mundane to the erotic, the filmmakers are granted access to follow an after-hours Wrinkles as he navigates his day-to-day happenings in Southwest Florida. The unwillingness of Wrinkles to reveal his identity depicts the figure as a blurry outline with a disguised raspy voice resemblant of a pack-a-day smoker. Wrinkles discusses the ethicality of his work through the lens of religion, comparing the threat of ‘going to hell’ with his unconventional fear-inducing methods, and the use of this predatory practises as being a contemporary example of a belting. For every answer supplied by Wrinkles, there begs two more questions asked.

Interviews with a series of subjects – including children, parents, law enforcement, medical experts, clowns, and folklorist – grants Wrinkles the Clown with a deeper understanding of society’s fascination with figureheads. It is an initially dawdling move, as though one too many ideas were being crammed into a miniature car, that Nichols manages to compensate for in a provocative second half that unearths broader issues concerning the power of broadcasting misinformation and the radioactivity of fear. 

Nichols proves himself a director capable of using the medium of film to empower the subtext. He utilizes surprise and mystery to the betterment of the film; opting to abstain from being shocking for the sake of easy thrills.

With Wrinkles the Clown, Nichols unpacks what a figure like Wrinkles represents in a time in American history brimming with fear. The excessive time taken to set Wrinkles the Clown up, however tedious, eventually becomes worthwhile, with Nichols providing the film a stirring treatment that allows it to exist outside of the surface (or sewer) level.

Director: Michael Beach Nichols

Writers: Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker