The Spool / Movies
Clock strikes true with surreal, character-based terror
Writer/director Alexis Jacknow's feature debut boasts strong craft and a stupendous, frightening turn from Diana Argon as a woman coming undone.
SimilarThe Shining (1980),
Watch afterAnt-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023), Evil Dead Rise (2023),
MPAA RatingR
Read also: popular streaming services that still offer a free trial>

Writer/director Alexis Jacknow’s feature debut boasts strong craft and a stupendous, frightening turn from Diana Argon as a woman coming undone.

From Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 to 2021’s False Positive, Hollywood has long been interested in women’s bodies and reproductive systems as a setpiece for horror: and writer-director Alexis Jacknow’s Clock is no exception. From its humble beginnings as a short film, Jacknow’s freshman feature has blossomed into a chilly, paranoia-ridden horror flick commanded by a captivating lead in Diana Agron. Though Clock‘s script is sometimes inelegant and clunky, it boasts enough personality, perspective, and ferocity to stand an exciting feature debut in the world of horror.  

Expanded from Jacknow’s short, Clock follows 38-year-old Ella (Agron), a successful interior designer and the only one of her married friends without a baby. Though she’s happily married to her husband, Aiden (Jay Ali), and content to live a child-free life, she’s hyper-aware that both Aiden and her father, Joseph (Saul Rubinek), have their hopes up that she’ll catch baby fever. Pressured by feelings of inadequacy around her friends and loved ones, Ella agrees to undergo a series of breakthrough treatments to try and get her biological clock finally ticking before she’s too old: a mysterious set of therapies and medications that soon take a disturbing toll on her sanity.  

Ella (Diana Agron) is pressured into trying a radical treatment to have a child everyone else wants in Clock. Hulu.

What’s immediately clear about Clock is writer-director Jacknow’s passion for Ella as a protagonist: she’s more than fully realized—she’s an achingly familiar shadow of someone you know—if not someone you are. Plagued by generational guilt, self-loathing, and a heaping dose of insecurity, Ella’s dilemma isn’t that she doesn’t have a baby: it’s that she doesn’t want one.  

It takes a lot of vulnerability and strength as a writer to admit a truth many women feel but can’t quite voice: some of us don’t want to have children. Clock takes this idea and warps it through a horror/psychological thriller lens. After a series of experimental treatments and medications leave Ella with visions and entering hysteric fugue states, her world begins to break down, and her sanity merges with her fears. It’s a visceral, horrifying viewing experience crafted by Jacknow’s all-encompassing direction and Alexandra Amick’s snappy editing.  

In terms of scares, that’s not quite what works here. There are certainly conventional Conjuring or Insidious-style jump scares (complete with a “tall woman” who bears particular resemblance to the former franchise’s recurring Nun). Still, none of them feel particularly earned or even necessary. Instead, the horror is most effective when we see the differences between reality and what Ella thinks is going on: and often because we’re presented with her version of events before the truth.  

Melora Hardin’s Dr. Simmons aims to keep Ella’s course on track at all costs in Clock. Hulu.

Unreliable narrators in horror are always delightful. Ella makes for a particularly effective one thanks to how strong of a lead she is on the page and to Diana Agron (Shiva Baby scene stealer and Glee alum) ‘s whirlwind horror heroine turn. Ella’s story is so frightening because she’s so familiar: she starts the film out a competent, content married professional with a thriving career and sense of self. Her is so elegantly executed on Agron’s part that you don’t wholly notice how off the rails things are until it’s too late—a mark of both Agron’s acting prowess and Jacknow’s writing.  

It also helps that the Clock’s ensemble cast is filled with compelling (if not particularly original) characters: Ell’as Jewish father (Rubinek), whose connection to their shared family legacy of trauma eventually drives her to psychological extremes. Again, it’s difficult to emphasize how personal Ella as a character feels to Jacknow’s perspective: there’s a visceral fury and gravity with which she carries the family’s generational trauma. It adds another layer to the other pressures for a baby: not only is the urge to fit in, but it’s also to continue a family line that was almost exterminated. 

As the treatment continues’ Ella’s world and mind begin to break in Clock. Hulu.

Of course, not all the storylines are as compelling: Ella’s romance/relationship with Aiden feels underbaked and arbitrary compared to her relationship with her father and the pressures imposed by her social circles. Aiden, too, seems to turn on a dime (as many a thriller boyfriend has) when Ella’s mental health takes a turn for the worst: of the significant elements in Ella’s life, it’s Aiden who could do with the most narrative work. 

But where Clock soars is in its unrelenting imagery and pill-induced visions: behind which is Melora Hardin’s mesmeric Dr. Simmons, the woman conducting the “breakthrough” medical trial Ella undergoes. Dr. Simmons recalls a cult leader with her charisma and ability to talk her way under your skin: when Ella begins having steadily more appalling visions, Dr. Simmons is there to gaslight her (and the audience) into thinking it’s all just part of the process. 

In some key places, Clock does admittedly struggle (the arbitrary, uninspired jump scares and the clunky first-act dialogue are most vexing), which serve as infrequent but noticeable reminders that this, in fact, a first-time feature filmmaker. But Clock‘s narrative strength and artistry are undeniable. Though its messaging may sometimes be unsettling and strange, Jacknow has a sharp edge, and Agron has a magnetic quality that build an intoxicating little nightmare of a film. 

Clock premiers Friday, April 28th, on Hulu.

Clock Trailer:
SimilarThe Shining (1980),
Watch afterAnt-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023), Evil Dead Rise (2023),
MPAA RatingR