20th Digital Studio is no more. Two days before Clock‘s release, Disney announced it would close down a studio brimming with so much potential in the independent sphere and yet squandered all of it through barely watchable movies. Disney attempted to revamp the brand by releasing some of their films on Hulu, including the AWFUL Grimcutty and nonsensical Matriarch. 20th Digital Studio is at it again with Clock, a competently shot but ridiculously plotted psychological thriller. While not as bad as Grimcutty, it still contains many problems that worsen as the film progresses.
The premise feels less convoluted than the two previous films, which is a massive improvement. Instead of desperately wanting a baby and attempting at “everything” to get to that point, our protagonist, Ella (Dianna Agron), does not want a child, no matter what her husband (Jay Ali) and father (Saul Rubinek) think. However, after a consultation with a doctor, Ella agrees to see Dr. Elizabeth Simmons (Melora Hardin), who has devised a treatment to make women want to have children. Of course, the treatment goes horribly wrong: she hallucinates and cannot discern what’s real and what isn’t. After that, the clichés begin.
Ella starts to experience strong adverse effects from her treatment. So strong that she starts to eat raw eggs, which is the biggest sign in a horror film that things aren’t going well. But the movie takes the raw egg eating to the next level: Ella doesn’t simply eat raw egg yokes. She freezes the egg case and eats them raw. Gross.
One of her friends, Shauna (Grace Porter), needs her nursery to be done by the end of the week, as she is expecting any day now. Of course, we know what will happen: she will design the nursery without processing reality and fiction and build something horribly disturbing. Don’t be surprised when this happens, but be shocked when a discernment between reality and fiction actively reveals one of the most head-rolling twists I’ve seen all year. It feels amazingly reprehensible for Ella’s arc, who didn’t really want to do this in the first place.
A good psychological thriller gives audiences a fully-developed protagonist whom you engage with, even if they start to lose their minds. Clock never develops its characters past endless clichés. Agron tries desperately to give her character some form of personality but can’t get past risibly-written dialogues through a questionable arc. Ali also tries to make his character worthwhile, and he is the best part of the movie…until it decides to haphazardly throw in a twist (or, in this case, a reveal) that hampers the rest of the third act. Ali still tries, but the writing is so ridiculous that you cannot bring yourself to engage with the material.
And then it gets even more ridiculous during the end, completely tarnishing any attempt it built at creating…something. It’s just never clear what Jacknow’s goals are. What does she want to talk about? Motherhood? What are the dangers of giving birth? How we shouldn’t trust experimental treatments? That doctors continuously gaslight their patients for…??? What are your goals? Even psychological thrillers that don’t explicitly tell their audience what the film is about or why X element is shown on screen at least have something to say. As much as some people call it a career killer, Beau is Afraid has many subtextual images throughout the movie beyond the simple “guy has to go to his mom’s house” storyline.
Clock has no subtextual images of interest — they’re there, but they mean nothing since the director never establishes them as important to the story. The subtext in Beau is Afraid is important to the larger picture of the film and will enhance your eventual rewatch. The subtext in Clock isn’t important to anything: it’s there to make the audience scratch their heads a bit but doesn’t mean anything beyond that. Since it never clearly establishes what the movie is about and shows Ella unattracted to children, going through a rather intense treatment to get attracted to the idea of having children, until it inexplicably goes wrong and the usual clichés come out.
It’s a collection of good ideas smeared into a poorly written film with actors who try their hardest to make the movie work, even if it amounts to absolutely nothing. Rubinek is particularly good as Ella’s father, but his arc ends in the most unfulfilling and, dare I say, insulting way possible. It wastes good talent for non-eventful surreal sequences, baffling twists, and a complete whimper of an ending. You may have never heard of 20th Digital Studio, and I won’t blame you. Most have likely never heard of films like Grimcutty, Matriarch, and Clock. It’s probably why Disney shut it down. Most people won’t even know that 20th Digital Studio is no longer part of the brand, unlike Blue Sky’s closure which saw a major outcry from fans, animators, and even journalists.
20th Digital Studio was a good idea…until the content was released. Compared to Searchlight, which promotes more arthouse fare, it could’ve been a great division of the FOX (now Disney) brand that uplifted independent film in the digital space. However, none of the films produced will ever be remembered in a few weeks from now. No one remembers Grimcutty. No one remembers Matriarch. And no one will remember Clock.
Clock is now available to stream on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ internationally.