Director : Alexis Jacknow
Writer : Alexis Jacknow
Stars : Dianna AgronMelora HardinSaul Rubinek
A universal experience for those of us born with uteruses is getting asked the inevitable question, “So when are you going to have kids?” For some, it’s an exciting question. For others, it’s our worst nightmare. So often it’s just assumed that if you have a uterus, you want to have kids. It’s our supposed biological imperative, after all. But what if we don’t want kids? What if that biological clock is merely an annoyance rather than a ticking time bomb? Societal pressures shame us and call us selfish for not continuing on the family name. But what if there are more important things to us than being a cog in the reproductive machine? Alexis Jacknow examines those questions and more in her feature film debut Clock, which had its world premiere at the 2023 Overlook Film Festival.
Ella Patel (Dianna Agron) is a successful designer with a hot husband, plenty of expendable income, and a lot of pregnant friends. At age 37, surrounded by moms and pregnant women, she’s constantly asked when she’ll have her own babies. When she says never, she’s met with the inevitable “you’ll change your mind” or “you’ll regret it if you don’t”. Meanwhile, she thinks back fondly on the vacations, sex, massages, and delicious meals she’s able to have whenever she wants due to being kid-free. This brief sequence is so refreshing as so often in film, women without children are shown full of regret. But here, Jacknow shows Ella’s joy in being childless. Ella loves her life the way it is.
But, after yet another argument with her father about continuing the bloodline and her husband saying he does still want kids, Ella decides something’s wrong with her. How could she be so against having kids? She thinks she needs to be fixed, so she enrolls in an experimental treatment meant to repair her biological clock. Under the care of seemingly maternal yet subtly menacing Dr. Elizabeth Simmons (Melora Hardin), Ella settles into the beige facility for a ten-day stay of unknown medications, sensory deprivation tanks, unnerving hallucinations, and the insertion of a strange device that’ll supposedly fix everything.
From there, Clock delves even further into horror territory while also weaving a tale of how trying to conform to societal standards can destroy you. Putting yourself into a box you despise doesn’t fix anything, but rather only forces you deeper into a hole of self-loathing. And if that sounds like a lose-lose situation, you aren’t far from the truth. With the shocking twists and turns in Clock, Jacknow is depicting the harrowing reality of women who decide not to have kids and don’t have the supposedly natural maternal instinct. This is pregnancy horror the likes of which horror hasn’t really seen, outside of Michelle Garza Cervera’s stunning Huesera: The Bone Woman.
Agron’s performance as Ella further solidifies the emotional impact of Clock as she truly embodies the frustration of a woman with a successful career who is still seen as less than due to her choice to not get pregnant. She appears calm and collected, with facial twinges that betray her frustration and resentment at each invasive question. As the emotional stakes ramp up, Agron’s controlled performance unravels and she becomes feral. It’s almost difficult to watch, but Agron infuses Ella with so much empathy, you can’t look away.
Then there’s Hardin as the cool and suspicious Dr. Simmons. She oozes a synthetic warmth, as if she’s watched a lot of videos on how to seem empathetic but doesn’t truly understand. She says the right words and smiles at the right time, but something about her is still suspicious. Hardin balances these two sides of the character perfectly to craft our supposed villain.
While the message is loud and clear, it does get muddled as Jacknow incorporates more horror elements as Clock builds to its climax. The imagery is consistently shocking and the twist is a gut punch, but too many narrative threads are dropped and left to trail behind the fast-paced ending. While Jacknow never loses sight of Ella’s central struggle, trying to shoehorn in the supernatural distracts slightly from the film’s already terrifying subject matter.
Ultimately, Jacknow’s Clock is a prescient and much-needed piece of horror that pretty explicitly displays the consequences of gendered societal pressure around reproduction and pregnancy. Here, the act of giving birth isn’t the only terrifying thing. It’s the loss of freedom and overall rejection of what Ella has always wanted and believed. Despite some third-act stumbles, Clock is a shocking experience supported by stunning performances from Agron and Hardin.