The Jester opens as John (Matt Servitto, Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell, The Night Watchmen) walks alone at night. A figure in a top hat and orange suit, the Jester (Michael Sheffield, Better Uses for the Infinity Gauntlet: A Super Satire, The Hit) appears and disappears behind him.
A young girl appears in an alley and again in front of him. He calls the now grown girl, his daughter Emma (Lelia Symington, Brut Force, Bury Me Twice) who is not happy to hear from him. The Jester confronts him and as John pleads for his life conjures up a noose and, using his tie to control it, hangs him.
At his funeral, we find out he has another daughter Jocelyn (Delaney White, Pooling Evidence) who he had after walking out on Emma and her mother. The Jester also puts in an appearance much to the dismay of a pair of gravediggers.
Director Colin Krawchuk and co-writer Michael Sheffield are both making their feature film debuts after several shorts, including a trilogy about The Jester. We might as well get this out of the way now, that sounds like the same route Damien Leone and Art the Clown took to fame and it’s not the only similarity between the two. Both use mime to communicate, have supernatural powers and, as in Terrifier 2 are spending Halloween stalking the children of a man with some kind of a connection to them.
There’s a superficial similarity, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out Art was an inspiration for The Jester, but the films are executed very differently. The film does have several bloody and grotesque moments like the scene where the old shell game costs the player their teeth and eyes. Or The Jester dancing with a headless cop for that matter. But it never gets much gorier than a mainstream slasher and is much more plot-driven. And that plot is the film’s major problem.
Lurking just under the surface of The Jester is a subplot about loss, grief, mistakes and forgiveness. Themes that certainly can fit into a horror film, but are poorly integrated into the story here. Even worse, they take over right at the point where the film should be most focused on horror. It also left me confused as to the killer’s true nature and how much of what I had seen actually happened.
It also would have helped if the sister’s stories were better integrated as well. Emma’s story is the most developed of the two and cutting away from it to Jocelyn hanging out with her friends gets frustrating as they don’t become involved in the film’s supernatural element until near the end. And then in a way the makes her feel like a prop rather than a character.
It’s too bad it gets tangled up at the end because there is a lot to like about The Jester. The title character is one of the better looking antagonists to turn up recently, with his pumpkin spice suit and creepy looking mask. Even better, his style of killing, using what looks like a magician’s hand gestures or having his tie act as a magic wand provides a much needed change from knives and power tools.
As noted there aren’t a lot of effects, but they are well staged by Jason Baker (The Black Phone, WrestleMania 33) and his crew. Cinematographer Joe Davidson (President’s Day, Nobody Gets Out Alive) brings a nice atmosphere to them and the rest of the film as well. But despite that, the script never lets The Jester rise above the level of watchable, which is still better than many Halloween set horrors.
Epic Pictures will release The Jester to VOD and Digital Platforms on October 3rd. via its Dread imprint.