Ever since the last of the great horror films—no, not Hot Tub Time Machine; The Shining (1980)—filmmakers have been desperately trying to scare the pants off movie-goers. They’ve been largely unsuccessful (unless you count the frighteningly high price of a movie ticket these days) and the reason is fear of the unknown. In other words, what scares us most is that which we can’t see, control or anonymously criticize on Twitter. Once the monster has come out of the closet (literally, that is, not as a homosexual metaphor), it no longer has the same power over us. Well, more or less. Those yappy little Chihuahuas still get me every time.
The 2013 independent film Clutter picks up where The Shining left off. Jack Nicholson’s character thaws out, comes back to life with his handy axe, and goes on a killing rampage against the gazillions of TV talk shows shouting “Heeeere’s Johnny!” as he peers through small holes. Okay, that’s not what Clutter is about at all.
Clutter takes on the most horrific subject of all: the inability to let go of crap. Make no mistake, hoarding is not about lazy housekeeping; as of 2013 it is now a bona fide disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). A disorder is defined as a “disruption of normal physical or mental functions; a disease or abnormal condition”—which also describes people who purchase selfie sticks and college-educated adults who spell “you’re” as “your.” But I digress.
The story of Clutter is about an eccentric woman, played by Carol Kane, whose hoarding disorder has gotten so out of control that the county health department orders her to declutter her house or lose it. The tag line is “Everyone is buried under something” and if you don’t think being trapped under two decades’ worth of empty cat food tins and feline feces is as scary as being hacked to pieces by a deranged chainsaw operator in Texas, then clearly you’ve been living a sheltered life.
Nowadays movie makers try to scare audiences with high-tech special effects and sudden blasts of the movie’s score in an attempt to tell you, rather than show you, that you’re scared. (You know when you can make taking a shower terrifying, you’ve done a good job.) Like most indie films, Clutter is a quiet movie, relying on honest acting and quality directing to tell its story. Well, that and quirky, heartfelt indie songs, artsy-fartsy fonts, and mind-numbingly banal suburbia.
Kane’s character is so attached to all the clutter in her home that “letting one thing go is like letting everything go.” When it comes to scary-ass moments, a stealthy, giant fish attack has got nothing on being forced to throw away the 800 empty yogurt containers that have taken over your kitchen. And if that’s not menacing enough, her three grown children have been affected by the emotional and physical chaos, too—which brings up the fact that there is a chromosomal defect in the brain of hoarders. In other words, hoarding is genetic.
That’s like finding out your mother used to run down the street screaming as a killer in a cheap plastic mask chased her, and knowing that, rather than inheriting her estate, you’ve inherited a John Carpenter role.
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