Are Clowns Scary?  Or Funny?

Main Cast: Erin Kiniry, Flood Reed

Director: Mitchell Slan

Penny is afraid of balloons.  It all started years ago when she was abducted from her birthday party by a serial killer dressed as a clown.  He tied her up and locked her in a shed and told her he would let her go if she could correctly answer three questions.  For every question she gets wrong, however, he pops a balloon.  Before he can move on to Penny, the police break in and blow his brains out, some of them ending up on Penny.  Now she’s in therapy to try and cure herself of her fear.  And tomorrow is the anniversary of her abduction and the killer’s death.

BALLOON is the latest short film in my exploration of the Alter YouTube channel.  Written and directed by Mitchell Slan (THE SON OF PHANTOM), this 2017 short stars Erin Kiniry (WE ARE THE MISSING) as Penny.

The short only runs 12 minutes and 58 seconds, and I’m torn between whether it was the run time, the script, or the acting that made it, in my mind, a failure.

Now, I’m not saying BALLOON sucks and you should never watch it. I’m saying it’s missing something that puts it in the same league as the previous Alter movies I’ve seen (The Smiling Man, and The Disappearance of Willie Bingham).  When it ends, BALLOON feels rushed, like there’s a whole middle section here we’re missing, and also a whole lot of backstory, even though we get the flashback to that fateful day when Penny was taken.  BALLOON feels like a bigger story than this 12 minutes and 58 seconds can contain.

I also felt the acting was … well, not GREAT.  Kiniry was good as Penny, and Flood Reed (OPENING THE MIND) as Poppy the Clown was really creepy in my headphones for what he was given to work with.  But an equal part of this story is Penny’s therapist played by Cavin Mohrhardt (BIRDS OF PREY) and I just couldn’t decide at any point—until the end, that is—if The Therapist was part of the cult of Poppy or not.  At times he gave off a sinister vibe and at others he seemed to really want to help Penny overcome her fear.  His motivation was completely lost on me.

And the big confrontation scene where Penny is forced to really face her fear … could there have been LESS effort put into making that scene look professional?  The cheap look of the scene coupled with Mohrhardt’s all over the place acting and I wasn’t sure what exactly I was supposed to be taking from that scene, which then ended up being what I felt was a pretty abrupt ending to a short film that could have gone in so many directions. 

And given that this was the last scene, the scene that’s supposed to leave the viewer with something to take with them, something to mull over later that night, maybe even something that will come back to them just as they’re drifting off to sleep and make them pull that exposed foot back under the sheets, I felt cheated.  The lack of care put into that last scene really undercut the rest of the film and turned it from something that had serious horror potential (the sound design alone in that flashback scene was cringe-inducing in the best way) into something that looks like it was made for $500 on the weekends with the director’s friends in someone’s studio apartment.  And lunch was not provided.

Apparently this movie cleaned up on awards in the horror festivals, earning 40 awards, including three for best director and eight for best film.  I would love to see the movies it was up against because there’s no way BALLOON was the best of the bunch.

And, again, I’m not saying it’s terrible and no one should ever watch it for any reason, I’m just saying it’s missing something that puts it over the top for me.  For someone else, it may be just the thing they were looking for, although I can’t imagine how.  Myself, I came away from it wishing for more.  More story, more depth, more … something.  And that’s why I’m having such a hard time with this one because I know it’s missing SOMETHING, I just can’t pinpoint WHAT. 

What could have possibly made BALLOON a movie I couldn’t wait to recommend?  I really don’t know.  I just know what I saw didn’t for it for me.  It was only alright.  Decent premise, I guess, good start, really good production in the flashback, very weak ending makes this one a mere … three stars?  And that’s rounding up.  I’m not so jaded on the Alter channel that I’m not looking forward to the next movie, but my guard is definitely up. Watch BALLOON here.

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