For most of his life, Evan Dossey generally avoided horror films. The genre made him profoundly uncomfortable. This meant he had enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Over the years, he has asked family and friends which essential horror movies he needs to see and spent the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. Once again, he’s sharing the month with those folks — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is our No Sleep October.

Matt Hurt is the creator of He also created, hosts and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat, Pizza Roll.

There’s no shortage of disturbing villains in horror, with the genre’s most iconic monsters wearing their gruesome intent on their sleeves. Whether that takes the form of a glove with sharpened knives, hockey apparel or a repurposed William Shatner mask, the imagery of monsters is just as important as their deranged acts. So when a film takes its monster and packages it inside an all-American family man and Boy Scout master, there’s an additional layer of derangement to be found.

This is what The Clovehitch Killer achieves with a wonderfully measured hand from director Duncan Skiles. The film introduces us to the community terrorized by a serial killer years ago, where the wounds have never truly healed as citizens hold a yearly memorial for the victims. It’s been 10 years since the killer took his final victim and the community is still in tatters. Though dormant from his gruesome vocation, the killer’s presence lingers among the town like a cloud of uncertainty — darkened by unanswered questions and a lack of closure.

The film’s plot is set in motion by accident as high schooler Tyler (Charlie Plummer) discovers a disturbing photograph in his father’s truck. This leads him down a rabbit hole that threatens to unravel his peaceful home life and may force him to confront unthinkable acts his father may or may not have committed a decade ago. The lingering question as to whether Tyler’s father, Don (Dylan McDermott), is the Clovehitch Killer hangs over Tyler’s head throughout the film, lurking in the audiences’ collective psyche as well.

As Tyler’s curiosity yields more and more questionable evidence, he attracts the attention of a loner classmate named Kassi (Madisen Beaty), who has a morbid fixation on the Clovehitch Killer. Of course, as they dig deeper into the mystery of the serial killer, Tyler’s father takes notice. What ensues is an unexpected psychological game that isn’t so much “cat and mouse” as it is “mice and potential lion whose thirst for blood hasn’t been slaked in a decade.”

There’s a subtlety to The Clovehitch Killer‘s plotting that comes as a pleasant surprise in terms of overall suspense. Moments where Don sits down with Tyler to confront him about the digging around Tyler has been doing play out with all the tension of a brutal slaying. In these fatherly confrontation scenes, McDermott takes total command of the screen as a man who is either hiding a deeply sinister secret or simply has a more intimidating approach to fatherhood than most. These are the film’s best and most stylish moments, as the dialogue delivered in McDermott’s constantly disquieting performance betray an astounding level of psychological horror and manipulation on the part of the character.

The growing instability of Don’s mental state and the potential for homicidal tendencies give the film’s third act a splendid sheen of psychological fright that’s built well off the tension that comes before it. As characters are faced with impossible choices and horrific truths, the threat to innocent lives means more than simply stopping a monster.

The film guides the audience toward considering complex questions regarding the control we willingly allow people in our lives to hold over us. It even forces us to confront the blind faith we may or may not give to those individuals. As Tyler is manipulated into believing the goodness of his family through a high amount of religious manipulation, he is led into an impossible situation wherein his actions become about more than protecting an innocent victim.

The Clovehitch Killer tackles the theme of a monster hiding in plain sight in a way that captivates the audience without trying to pull one over on us. Instead of keeping the audience guessing, the film wisely paints a vivid picture of horror lying just beneath the surface. The man who helps your children earn their merit badges is likely on the up and up. But The Clovehitch Killer is grounded and disturbing enough to make you second guess the tight-knit community you’re a part of and question what secrets people may be keeping.