Hulu’s Parenthood Horror Feels A Bit Premature [Overlook] The Playlist

Apr 3, 2023

I was in my mid-30s when my wife and I decided not to have children. Until then, starting a family had always seemed like the natural culmination of a series of personal and professional journeys. But when faced with the prospect of a “geriatric pregnancy” and all the complications and difficulties that process incurs, we had to make a decision (we did), and we had to be sure (we were). Those memories fluttered to the surface throughout “Clock,” the debut horror film from actor and filmmaker Alexis Jacknow.
READ MORE: The Playlist’s 25 Most Anticipated Horror Films of 2023
Ella Patel (Dianna Argon) seems to have a perfect life. She’s a world-famous interior decorator who luxury magazines herald as The Color Authority. She’s also married to Aidan (Jay Ali), a loving and supportive doctor who shows nothing but respect for her father, Joseph (Saul Rubinek). But despite these accomplishments, Ella is the subject of scorn for her friends. They only pause in their conversations about the trials and tribulations of motherhood – including graphic descriptions of childbirth and vaginoplasty — long enough to pressure Ella into making her own decision about children.
And after years of suffering through these needles, Ella has had enough. Her desire to have children has not changed — her biological clock, it seems, has absolutely no ‘tick’ — but she loves her family enough to do what it takes to change her mind. So when she hears about a voluntary study by Dr. Elizabeth Simmons (Melora Hardin, in excellent form here), Ella enlists, putting herself through a ten-day boot camp of therapy and drugs that she hopes will hotwire her maternal instincts. And as with any medical facility in a horror film, Ella soon discovers that some desires are better off dormant.
Jacknow presents religion as one of the most significant pressure points for starting a family. The most pressure in Ella’s life to start a family comes from her father, Joseph (Saul Rubinek). Joseph frames his nagging as an appeal to the lineage of their family. In the Jewish tradition, he explains, family is passed down matrilineally, which allows any family to trace their roots back to the first fish who stepped out of water. Joseph believes that Ella has an obligation to have children to honor the lives that were lost during the Holocaust and to fulfill what he claims was his late mother’s desire to start a big family. Understandably, each visit with Joseph ends in either a fight or Ella in tears.
“Clock” is at its best when it explores the intersections of tradition and guilt. Elizabeth is a strong vehicle for that divide: a woman of pseudoscience who attempts to cure the apathy of her patients through a combination of medication and cognitive therapy. But Ella understands the forces moving against her in a way that Elizabeth never can. For example, when offered platitudes about the death of family members during the Holocaust, Ella explains to her doctor that people honor the Holocaust primarily out of a fear of history repeating itself. “You struggle with the concept of bringing a child into a world like that,” Elizabeth points out. “Anyone who doesn’t isn’t paying attention,” Ella replies.
And as Ella advances in her treatment, she begins to hallucinate the three things she saw during therapy at the clinic: clocks, spiders, and a mysterious tall woman. Unfortunately, “Clock” suffers a little from the lack of a well-defined horror conceit. Jacknow offers a vast collection of visual concepts — there’s something straightforward and upsetting about watching Ella ecstatically rub her face with frozen eggs — but “Clock” never seems quite sure what kind of horror it wants to be. There are elements of body dysmorphia, folk horror, and even possession, but the film would have perhaps benefitted from a more clear vision of terror (although “Clock” quietly works wonders with a more subtle desaturation of colors).
There is also a disconnect between approach and aesthetic that “Clock” never fully reconciles. Ella exists in a world where her friends and family members exert near-constant pressure on her to start a family. We never get to see Ella interact with people who support her lifestyle; the film may have benefitted from establishing relationships for Ella and Aidan outside their preselected friend group. Even as one late-film twist hints at why Ella’s friends are so determined for her to change her mind, one cannot help but feel like the proper ante has not been paid. We need more from these relationships than just conversations about babies.
The result, then, is a mixed bag. There is a void in the market for horror films that speak directly to nonparents. Jacknow also shows enough command of both the material and the production design to prove her horror bonafides. But “Clock” can often feel like what it is: a short-film-turned-feature that may have needed a little more time to develop. There’s the kernel of a story here that is perfectly in tune with the modern world’s needs. Here’s hoping Jacknow gets another chance as a horror filmmaker to prove what she’s worth. [C]
“Clock” debuts on Hulu on April 28.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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