On a whole, I think the web series can be a great medium for storytelling. In recent years it has done wonders for comedy, and in the process acted as a new voice for groups marginalized by mainstream media. As well, the web series has helped to demonstrate the viability of genre projects which might otherwise be deemed too risky for conventional television. Yet I’ve always thought there was something missing. Where is the web series that pulls no punches? In a medium without limits, mostly, where is the FX and HBO factor? Tuesday morning I woke up to an email from Jonathan Robbins, writer and director of Clutch; it turns out he and his series have the answer to my question.
Now in its second season, Clutch is a Canadian produced multiple award winning femme fatale crime thriller set in Toronto. The first season focuses on Kylie (Elitsa Bako), a pick pocket drawn into a deeper world of professional thievery and organized crime. After escaping an attempt on the part of her ex-boyfriend to sell her into the sex trade, Kylie meets a prostitute named Bridgette (Lea Lawrynowicz) and a thief named Mike (Jeff Sinasac), who presumes to take Kylie on as an apprentice. From there, the story is one of people forced into crime as a means of survival stealing from those who choose crime as a lifestyle.
Stylistically Clutch is a web series answer to Shawn Ryan and The Shield. Tight shots on characters create an almost intrusive sense of intimacy between the show and the audience. This closeness underpins the series’ graphic violence and frequent nudity, almost making the viewer feel like a voyeur into a world which is both fascinating and terrifying. While there are elements of Robert Rodriguez’s and Frank Miller’s screen adaptation of Sin City in the plot, Clutch’s visual focus is always on the inherent ugliness of crime. Absent are Sin City’s voice overs and stylistic trickery which would otherwise blunt the honesty of events as they unfold.
Which brings me to the series’ second episode. It’s not my style to overtly spoil things for the viewing audience, yet there is one particular scene which deserves some special attention. As a clue, I will say that Pete Travis shot a similar sort of scene with Lena Headey in Dredd; the rest you can either figure out on your own or just watch the series to see what I mean.
This scene casts aside any doubt that Clutch is anything but a hard “R” rated web series intent on cutting to the bone. At the same time, said scene is as alluring (in a narrative sense) as it is alienating. Viewers are either going to be drawn into Clutch in this moment, or they will walk away. Presenting this scene as a means of setting an overall tone, when it might be better used as a coup de gras toward the end of the season, is bold writing. This is before we get to the unflinching conviction to character that the cast, especially Elitsa Bako, demonstrate in this scene. Not to play psychologist, but there are no shortage of moments within Clutch’s first season which I imagine must have been challenging for the cast. Their fantastic execution demonstrates what I can only assume to be a remarkable trust in Mr. Robbins’ directing and overall vision for the series.
Though magnificent in its cinematography and story telling, there is one area which stands out as less polished than the rest of the production, specifically the gun play. In a series which boasts great music and otherwise solid audio balancing, the guns sound wrong. Pistols and machine guns alike sound too artificial and are accompanied by what looked, to my untrained eyes, like too much post-production muzzle flash. Similarly, cuts from shooter to victim feel a little ill timed. However, I recognize it is hard to hide squib packs on naked people. Ultimately, if the handful of shooting sequences demonstrate anything, it’s that Clutch is at its best when its violence is visceral, psychological, and not subject to something as pedestrian as gunfire.
Both bold and daring, Clutch is a new and wholly welcome direction for the web series as a medium. Its characters are all flawed yet most, save for the mob boss, Marcel, remain accessible despite how the Hobbesian brutality of their lives has shaped them into morally questionable entities. Though nudity is a new thing for me in a web series, as is Clutch’s unabashed violence, the absence of either would have been askance given the nature of this story. Certainly the Ocean’s 11 meets The Shield approach will be off-putting for some, but those whose tastes lean toward gritty urban crime will likely not find themselves disappointed.
For your viewing pleasure, here’s the first episode of Clutch. It should go without saying this is NSFW.
Clutch stars Elitsa Bako, Lea Lawrynowicz, Matthew Carvery, Buzz Koffman, Jeff Sinasac, and Alexandra Elle. The series is written and directed by Jonathan Robbins.
Head over to clutchtheseries.com for more information on the series, cast, and crew.