Written and directed by Alexis Jacknow in her feature debut, the psychological maternal thriller Clock is uterine horror meets generational trauma. The film's editor, Alexandra Amick, spoke with E.L. King to discuss her experience working on the film, why stories about the female experience are effectively told through a horror lens, and her instrumental role in supporting Jacknow’s vision. Amick is an accomplished film and television editor, previously working on countless projects like the haunting psychological prairie horror The Wind.
Clock follows Ella, a successful interior decorator, and designer on the verge of her late 30s who has no desire to have children — the idea may even repulse her for reasons unknown. After her routine annual exam, it’s suggested that her biological clock is broken, so she enrolls in a clinical trial to fix it after friends, family, and society continues pressures her to have children.
E.L. King: How did you discover the horror genre? Do you have a particular moment that drew you to horror?
Alexandra Amick: To be completely honest, I was drawn to horror out of necessity. Not because I particularly enjoyed it. I’m a real weeny. My first encounter with horror was at seven years old, sneaking TV time in the middle of the night. I watched Hellraiser and was so terrified I could barely manage the courage to sprint into my parents’ room and beg to sleep with them. I was happy to move on with my life and never voluntarily scare myself like that again.
Then I was offered my first feature, The Wind. I read the script and loved it, so my real horror education began. I had to research, so I watched horror films for days. Through that, and working in horror for years now, I’ve come to really appreciate it as such a special genre in which you can really do anything that you want. But I’m still a weeny and have difficulty making it through a horror if I’m not watching for research.
E.L. King: Can you describe what drew you to working in film and how you broke into the film industry?
Alexandra Amick: When I was around eleven, I saw the behind-the-scenes documentaries on the making of The Lord of the Rings, which they so perfectly called The Appendices, and really never looked back. Up until that point, I don’t think I’d ever realized that making movies was an actual job, a real art that you could pursue. I was really drawn to the collaboration of it, the camaraderie of creating something with a group of passionate people. After that, I pretty much dedicated everything to being able to do that. I went to film school at Florida State and then moved to Los Angeles. I worked as an assistant editor on various things for a few years until I was able to move up to editing.
E.L. King: Tell us about your collaboration with Jacknow and how your experience with pregnancy helped bring her vision to life.
Alexandra Amick: I wasn’t sure if I wanted children for a long time. In fact, right when I was given the script to read, my husband and I had pretty much just decided that we did. So I related to Ella, the main character. I knew what it felt like to be pressured to have children from all sides, to be afraid of what it would do to my life and career, and to worry about the state of the world my child would inherit. Alexis and I were able to talk about that and so much more.
Collaborating with a director is a whole other kind of sub-art form within the editorial art form, and with this film, it was intense, personal, and truly a joy.
E.L. King: Stories about the female experience have been told through a horror lens for decades. While not always by female filmmakers, horror has been an avenue to explore women’s stories. Rosemary’s Baby is one such film and an excellent exploration of gaslighting and the perception of female hysteria in the 1960s before Hysteria was removed as an official medical diagnosis.
Like Clock, it leverages horror to explore those themes through the experience of pregnancy and motherhood. Why do you believe that horror is a strong platform for telling women’s stories?
Alexandra Amick: Horror is a genre designed to explore the hidden, shadowed, and taboo. Unfortunately, our experiences are often seen as just that. In my experience, when women watch a horror film centered around their real-life issues, their first reaction is, “Yep!” I think we need to ask ourselves, “Would Clock or any other female-centered horror have been green-lit if it wasn’t pitched as a horror film? Would audiences have related to it as much if it hadn’t been presented in such a way?”
Now, all that said, horror is fun! Alexis likes to say, “You really do need that spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.” And because our film is horror, I think it reaches a wider audience than if it had been a drama centered around the same heavy issues. It’s a fun and twisted ride that tackles intense subject matter. You ask a complex and complicated question that we should continue to ask ourselves as it elicits an equally complex answer.
E.L. King: You have a unique perspective on the film’s themes of bodily autonomy, societal pressures and expectations of women concerning procreation, and generational trauma. With the ramifications of Roe v. Wade affecting women everywhere and the societal insistence to govern women’s bodies, walk us through how these themes are explored in the film.
Alexandra Amick: Even though I had a wanted pregnancy, pregnancy was not easy for me, birth was not easy for me, and postpartum has not been easy for me. Every stage has been painful, expensive, isolating… I could go on. And because of that, I absolutely cannot imagine anyone doing this without wanting to. Roe v. Wade was fully repealed while we were editing! It made a relevant film too relevant.
The ideas of autonomy, generational trauma, and societal pressure are everywhere in the film. But I think a deeper and more tragic theme than those is women’s silence. Ella doesn’t tell her husband she’s going to this clinical trial “because what if it doesn’t work.” Ella doesn’t tell her best friend what she’s doing and struggling with because she’s embarrassed and ashamed. Ella and all of the women attending the clinical trial don’t disclose their symptoms to Dr. Simmons because, as she says, “we are so desperate to be normal we’re willing to white-knuckle it through anything.”
Society tells us women’s voices should not be raised, our voices should be silenced, and the repealing of Roe v. Wade is just another attempt to take away that voice. This is why we need to keep making films about our experiences. Our voices can ring far and wide in this space.
E.L. King: Clock includes powerful and disturbing imagery that only elevates its themes, specifically during a scene in which Ella is placed in a locked deprivation tank. While submerged, she is shown images of flowers blooming and babies being born, but her visions soon turn dark and violent. She envisions herself standing in a hospital gown while a baby hangs from an umbilical cord and swings back and forth like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. This imagery is deeply tied to her generational trauma and fear of bringing a child into the world.
The swinging pendulum is often a metaphor for the swinging of public opinion and policy. It was once said that the true symbol of “the United States is the pendulum, not the bald eagle. The pendulum will return to where it started when it swings too far in one direction.”
This symbolism of the pendulum is present in various scenes but is prominent in the tank scene. Can you speak to that symbolism in the film?
Alexandra Amick: Yes, we’re really drawing a line between that baby pendulum and the pendulum of the grandfather clock: the only thing her grandparents could keep after they survived the concentration camps. If she doesn’t have children, what was their survival for?
But more than that, the pendulum really represents the pressure of the countdown for Ella.
The “biological clock” is counting down until you are no longer fertile, but I think she also sees it as a countdown of her life being over, so to speak. As it ticks down, she’s closer to losing time to do things she loves. Tick - goodbye job! Tock - goodbye sex life! Tick - see ya, volunteer work! Tock - forget about “me time!”
E.L. King: Women who choose not to have children are often labeled selfish, shallow, and immature, and it’s presumed that they don't care about children. I’ve certainly experienced the unconscious bias that comes with society’s inability to cope with my decision not to have kids, especially from mothers. There’s an inherent mistrust of women without children and an inability to accept our decision to remain childless.
This attitude is apparent in a scene where Ella attends the baby shower of her best friend Shauna when the film opens. Did any specific experiences influence the scene, and why do you believe it was important to open with film with?
Alexandra Amick: First, I think it’s completely ridiculous to label anyone who chooses not to have children as selfish. If I’m being honest, I think for a lot of people, those accusations can come from a place of jealousy. Having children requires so much sacrifice, and seeing someone sacrifice-free can really make you dream of the before-kid days. I can also see how it comes from a place of wanting others to share in the joy and fulfillment they feel. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your baby smile at you for the first time, but thinking someone who doesn’t want that is unfulfilled is misguided, to say the least.
I think it’s important that we opened the film smack dab in the middle of that misguidedness so that the mothers could ask, “What do you do all day without kids?” And for us to go into the montage of Ella’s fabulous life as if to say, “Whatever I want!” Story-wise, it gives us the starting point for Ella. It shows us her happiness. She has a wonderful life full of love, giving back, and professional growth. It shows us how far she has to fall, how each one of those things we show in that montage will be plucked out of her life because she decides to give in to those pressures around her.
Like many scenes in this film, that scene definitely had specific experiences that influenced Alexis’s writing. A very specific one, in fact. The actor who plays the mother who says, “Why don’t you want kids? Yes, you do. You want kids,” Margaux Susi actually said those exact words to Alexis the first time they met. So when she wrote the scene, she knew she had to get Margaux to play that role. I’d like to add that Alexis and Margaux are best friends, so there’s no hard feelings there!
E.L. King: How do you believe the film’s themes will resonate with audiences?
Alexandra Amick: Before the film was released, we hoped would make people feel seen. We hoped that anyone who had experienced this or something similar would see themselves in Ella and feel like they weren’t alone. Now that the film has been streaming for over a month, we know we’ve succeeded. Alexis receives messages daily from people who have decided not to have children, and they feel validated by the film. The messages are really so incredible, especially since we were honestly bracing for some backlash due to the controversial subject matter. But there’s only been support by those who feel seen by the film.
E.L. King: Will you continue leveraging the horror genre to tell female-centric stories?
Alexandra Amick: Absolutely. Horror is a space where anything and everything can be explored, and I look forward to seeing how far we can push that. Although, I really wouldn’t mind a comedy. Horror, especially when exploring such heavy subject matter, isn’t always the happiest thing to edit every day, and I could use an upper!
E.L. King: What’s on the horizon for you? Do you have upcoming projects you can share with us?
Alexandra Amick: Another horror film I edited, Lovely, Dark, and Deep, written and directed by Teresa Sutherland, will be premiering at a film festival to be announced later this year. It was great working with Teresa again after The Wind, and I’m very excited to have this strange, beautiful, and haunting film out there for audiences to see.