Director John mpson's Amusement was largely overlooked upon its release in 2008. Which is a shame, because the film deserves better. I wasn't expecting much from it when I discovered it in a second-hand DVD bin last night for a whopping 3 bucks, but the clown on the cover looked creepy, so I decided to give it a try.
I was soon pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it. The script is playfully nister and you can never quite tell exactly what it will throw at you next. Usually, when you think you know what is about to happen, something else happens instead, which is one of the things that gives Amusement a spark of originality, even as the plot moves through a series of vignettes that represent a sort of ode to other, clasc films. There are knowing winks to horror movie convention throughout, a la Scream, and as characters escape one trap only to find themselves wandering into a worse one, there is a sense of running-in-circles futility that is reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Obviously, the killer clown premise that is used in one portion of Amusement has been seen, in one way or another, in all sorts of films, from Stephen King's It, to Killer Klowns From Outer Space. Amusement excels at pilfering bits and pieces from different horror formulas and remixing them into its own "greatest hits" mash up. If the theft of concepts seems justified, it is largely due to the character listed in the script only as "the Laugh", and his portrayal by Keir O'Donnell. The Laugh is an extremely versatile psychopath who delights in playing all sorts of characters for brief stints. He is always popping in and out of the lives of our protagonists, either in the guise of an FBI agent, a truck driver, or more menacing figures such as the aforementioned killer clown. Taking his name from the distinctive, maniacal cackling that erupts from him whenever he decides to break character and kill someone, Keir O'Donnell plays the Laugh with wicked joy, making him both scary and fun to watch as he spreads gore, chaos and confuon wherever he turns up. There are times when the film quite effectively surprises us with what's real and what's not, and the script alone probably would not have pulled those moments off without the strength of O'Donnell's performance. Katheryn Winnick is another delightful surprise in the role of Tabitha. Admittedly, there are moments where she seems to be channeling Laurie Strode, and others where she seems to be channeling dney Prescott, but that's all in keeping with the theme of the film, and Winnick imbues the character with enough personality of her own to keep us rooting for her.The film's most noticeable weak spot shows up in the form of the other 2 central characters, Shelby and Lisa, played by Laura Breckenridge and Jesca Lucas, respectively. These characters are both shortchanged by the script to some degree. Their vignettes are a little bit shorter and not quite as well developed as Tabitha's, and the movie seems to be in a rush to bring their stories to a close before giving them any kind of real resolution. Sadly, things like that are standard fare in many horror movies, but the overall strength of Amusement's script led me to expect more from this particular film.Though I was disappointed that certain characters weren't developed a little more fully, I still found Amusement
to be a fun, mostly well-crafted celebration of horror that lives up to its title. I give it 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.