CLOCK Director Alexis Jacknow Explores The Horrors Of Autonomy

And discusses ancestral expectations, nightmare imagery and more.

By Angel Melanson · @HorrorGirlProbs · April 26, 2023, 5:30 PM EDT
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Clock marks the feature directorial debut of Alexis Jacknow, and follows Ella (Dianna Agron) as she caves to outside pressure and the disappointment of her husband Aidan (Jay Ali) and father (Saul Rubineck) to have kids. In an effort to please her family, Ella seeks out an experimental treatment to "fix" her motherly instincts. Led by Dr. Simmons (Melora Hardin), the treatment has some adverse side effects, unleashing ghosts from Ella's family's past. Clock is Jacknow's expansion of her 2020 short film of the same name which was a part of Hulu's Huluween lineup.

Clock started out as a short on Hulu, right? Was it part of their Halloween kind of shorts, the Bite Size Halloween programming they do? How do you feel about that?

I mean, it feels great. The short really evolved from this kernel of an idea into something different but with a lot of the same themes. And I was just excited to have the opportunity to expand it.

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When you made the short, did you have this in mind, or was it intended as a standalone short, and then there was interest to develop it into a feature, and you just had to figure out how to make that happen?

Yeah, it was really just a kernel of an idea for a short, and then when they asked me to pitch them a feature version, I had to figure out how to expand it into something that could last and hold for 90 minutes.

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Is that kind of an oh shit moment, or were you mostly just excited to tackle that?

I really don't remember an oh shit moment. I just remember thinking, what a fun challenge, because I care about the themes and subject material so much, and it felt so personal to me that I was more like, ooh, let's dig in and see how we can crack this open and make it work as a feature-length.

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You use specific language in this, which I imagine is very intentional. You use things like "broken biological clocks," and there's no potion that will "fix you" when you're no longer fertile. Was it important for you to get that very specific language into the script?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think so much of the language surrounding women's fertility and choices about whether or not to become mothers or their ability to bear children is so negative. And I just wanted to highlight that and say if you look at our speaking about this and it's not good.

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You go really heavy on the themes of ancestry and how that can weigh on us, what's expected of us. And obviously, that can differ. Often, culture has a lot to do with our ancestral and cultural expectations. This story specifically focuses on Jewish ancestry and Jewish culture. Was that specifically important to you to approach it from that angle?

It was. I'm Jewish. I feel those pressures from a racial, ethnic, and religious perspective. I feel an even greater weight and responsibility because there are so few of us left and because of what has been brought upon my race pretty much once a century for the last however many thousands of years. The Jewish line is traced through the women, and so there is this added expectation.

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It's deeply personal in that way, and I think you always want to turn the boiler to high with your characters. I thought, well, how could we turn the pressure cooker up on her? And it was to let her be Jewish and let that become part of the equation of the pressures she feels to bear children.

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I love that you went so personal with it, because I feel when a filmmaker does that, it shows on the screen. There's an authenticity to it that you can't fake, and it resonates a little differently.

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Absolutely. And that's what I want with this movie is for people to feel less alone and to say, "I'm not the only one asking these questions or having these feelings." I mean, many cultures have been persecuted or even personal stories, it just feels like this huge responsibility that we have to bear.

But after we premiered at Overlook, I had so many women and men coming up to me and sharing their personal stories like that. I was so happy that it got people talking, sharing, and voicing concerns, fears, and vulnerabilities. I just want people to feel less alone about these things because it's often looked at as a shameful thing to talk about, and I don't think it should be.

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Was there ever a moment when you thought maybe you would hold back a little bit and not be so personal in the script? Or was it always like, no, I'm putting all of this out there?

I was terrified to put it all out there. It's been an incredibly raw and vulnerable experience for me. But I'm so glad I did, and I wouldn't have known any other way to do it.

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I have no idea what to expect because this movie has taken on a whole different context from what was intended. When we started making it, Roe was still in place, and by the time we were finished making it, it was overturned. And so now people are viewing this movie through a completely different lens, and it's this really hot-button issue; female body autonomy, pregnancy.

I just wonder what kind of conversation will come after the release. And I think it might be a lot hotter than what was originally intended or anticipated.

I think you might be correct in that, yes, but I'm also excited to see what that conversation looks like. And it's important that we're having this conversation. It's important that it's in the conversation to begin with.

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Me too. And gosh, I just hope people will listen to each other. I hope that it creates some kind of palpable dialogue instead of just people plugging their ears and screaming at each other. I really, really hope that it creates something useful.

It is a horror movie, but you take a seemingly mundane thing, like a trip to the gynecologist, and show the actual horror of what that's like. You made it so uncomfortable and I just imagine people squirming in their seats about it.

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Oh, yeah. I mean, that's the one scene in the movie my husband can't watch. He literally can't look at it. The first time he saw it, he got fuzzy. He almost passed out. I think men especially aren't going to believe what we go through just on a yearly basis. I'm like, "Oh, it's just what we do every year. No big deal." Except, for it is.

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You also have some very specific nightmarish imagery in this. How did you decide what to show to get under the audience's skin? There's one image, in particular, I wonder if there's going to be some discussion about.

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I'm sure I know what you're talking about. And that image even scared me when I thought about it for the first time. It made me incredibly uncomfortable when that popped into my head, and I thought, well, that's what the movie's about, so we're going to do it.

A lot of the imagery, even some little Easter eggs in there, are just things that I walked through life with as a Jewish woman. When Ella first arrives at the clinic, there's an exterminator out front. And I can't be driving down the street and see an extermination company truck in front of me without thinking about something horrible.

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And so there are just these little hints of horror throughout the imagery that feel really triggering to me personally as a Jewish woman; the extermination, the bugs, of course, the woman she starts to see throughout her treatment, which I won't spoil anything. But all of these things are things that frighten me or that I feel intimidated by; ancestry, history, all of that. And so I just wanted to put some visuals to that and kind of express how I was feeling.

I want to ask you about the ending. Did you grapple with the ending at all? Was it ever a question, or did you always know that this was where we were going?

I did grapple with that because I wanted her to have a triumphant ending. I thought it was unfair to watch her go through all of this, and she regains her autonomy, and she doesn't get the triumph. But now that I'm watching it in the context of Roe, I think what she does at the end is an ultimate act of autonomy. I didn't see a way to get her out of it once we go through the twist of what's actually going on.

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And the true horror of the movie is watching a woman choose over and over to go against her better instincts and her own authenticity, and the life that she wants to lead. The idea that if you do that, it's not going to end well, you're not going to be happy, and that it's just not a good path to go down. That's not a winning path. And even though it is so difficult to live your life outside of social norms and to be somebody that is "other", I think it's the bravest thing somebody can do. When I see people walking through the world, living their life on their terms, I look at them as heroic people, and I really, really admire them.


Clock premieres exclusively on Hulu Friday, April 28.