BUFF24: No Clownin, Off Ramp is Juggalo Juice for the Soul

Image courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival / Exile PR

I am not a big fan of the Insane Clown Posse. Their brand of rap, metal, and horror just doesn’t satisfy my musical interests. I don’t judge, though. To each their own. Nevertheless, if you had told me that Nathan Tape’s Off Ramp—about a couple of ICP followers (better known as Juggalos) making their yearly pilgrimage to attend the band’s Gathering event—would be my favorite film so far this year, I would have said you were crazy.

The Off Ramp poster shows Trey, Silas, and Eden in clown paint and the film's villains without it.

There’s a predisposition about the Insane Clown Posse that’s almost laughable. It starts with several one-off stories painting Juggalos in a negative light. Then, in 2010, the FBI classified the group as a gang, citing racketeering and comparing ICP’s yearly Gathering to a religious cult assembly. Despite multiple appeals (and the fact that it’s bullsh*t), their fans started losing their jobs, had their kids taken from them, and, in some cases, faced jail sentencing. Juggalos remain on the FBI’s list today. The trip can feel somewhat religious for anyone trekking hundreds of miles to see their favorite band. Maybe it just needs to happen without face paint. Otherwise, Beatles fans and Swifties might be featured on the same list. But this happens when we judge books by their cover and label whole communities based on the actions of a few.

While most bands that invigorate their crowds at this level get talked about positively, ICP’s history often sparks hate, fear, and erroneous impressions. I’ll even admit to some skepticism before seeing Off Ramp. Yet, I was willing to take a chance and am beyond elated that I did. It ended up being one of the most moving and human experiences I’ve ever had at the movies. Whatever misconceptions you may have, throw it out of your head. The film is a superb and unexpected triumph of independent cinema and should be sought after wherever it plays.

Off Ramp begins on the heels of Trey (Jon Oswald) who is recently paroled after spending a year in lockup. Looking forward to catching up with his best friend, Silas (Scott Turner Schofield) convinces Trey they have to go to this year’s Gathering, which happens to be just a day away. Looking not to end up back in prison, Trey sets ground rules for the trip, which Silas ignores. The two head down the highway to the event until Trey decides to take the scenic route. Taking the Off Ramp through the area of an excommunicated Juggalo, Scarecrow (Jared Bankens), who doesn’t take too kindly to Trey, being that he’s the one who got Scarecrow kicked out of the Gathering forever.

Trey, Silas, and Eden are seen in clown makeup 3 feet apart from one another.
Image courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival / Exile PR

On the way, a run-in with an arrogant local sheriff (Reed Diamond) causes trouble for our fun-loving Juggalos, and he decides to sick a police officer (Miles Doleac) to tail them. Finding a less-than-legal way out of the situation, Trey and Silas turn to Scarecrow and his sister Eden (Ashley Smith) to lie low and ask for a favor to make it to the Gathering. But Scarecrow hatches a plan for revenge instead.

Over the last twenty-five years, a growing number of Juggalo documentaries, a few films starring ICP’s Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J, and even a couple of Vice investigative reports have emerged. Some, such as The United States of Insanity, provide insight into the band’s fight alongside the ACLU in suing the FBI. In contrast, others contain a level of biased condescension as they examine Juggalo culture.

Off Ramp is of a different quality. For starters, it is a narrative, but it’s also built on stories shared with Tape by the Juggalos he met while attending the Gathering and making the film. Off Ramp provides a level of authenticity that Insane Clown Posse fans will enjoy while remaining engaging to audiences that aren’t a part of that world. The film allows them to see Juggalos for who they are by telling the story of a couple of loveable dopes who always seem morally end up on the right side of things, even while others are looking down their nose at them.

Beginning as a road trip film with Trey and Silas filling buddy comedy shoes similar to Jay and Silent Bob, Wayne and Garth, or Harry Dunne and Lloyd Christmas, the writing shines at every turn. Tape and writing partner Tim Cairo have remarkable fun crafting an introduction that allows the audience to go on this trip with the pair and humanize them beyond just their Juggalo-ness. Additionally, the dialogue is fast and fresh, granting the opportunity to compare Trey and Silas to the people in your inner circles. The more time spent with our Gathering bound duo, the more you hope they succeed. Particularly when Silas announces they have a spot in the stage lineup at the Gathering.

Silas holds a small blow torch in OFF RAMP
Image courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival / Exile PR

When things sharply change in the second half of the film, as Trey and Silas hide out from the cops, the concept of being misrepresented and seen as more than just a Juggalo comes back in an extraordinarily unanticipated way. During this time, characters reveal personal truths to the audience and help us understand the impact Insane Clown Posse’s music has on these characters. Furthermore, the Juggalo community doesn’t care about your politics, race, gender, or if you’re fresh out of the state pen. If you’re “down with the clown,” you’re family. The central themes of love, family, and acceptance are at the heart of everything Trey and Silas do. And, while Juggalos also preach it in those aforementioned documentaries, it’s harder to see past the spectacle that’s often depicted. The people interviewed in those films also speak with compassion and care for their fellow travelers and consider themselves family by choice.

Trey and Silas’ otherworldly bond with the Juggalo community often transcends into commentaries on the Juggalo mantra. “The carnival provides,” and other musings are uttered like Taoist spirituality by way of The Big Lebowski, but mostly it’s a vibe showing a jovial and loving atmosphere. Tape lets you see the qualities that would justify the Juggalos as a religion, all while asking, “What’s the problem with that?” Simultaneously, he’s actively comparing the singled-out Juggalo group against a couple of corrupt cops. The defining contrast in dominance and power helps twist the Juggalos’ real-life woes with the police peddled adage of “a few bad apples” into a question about why that couldn’t apply to Juggalos, too. “Happiness isn’t always a good time” becomes a densely packed appeal for others to do the right thing, while the film spirals into a southern-fried nightmare.

Nathan Tape’s incredible directorial skills allow him to manage impeccable tone and pacing, allowing for an honest connection between the audience and the characters on screen. The result is as emotional a journey as it is entertaining, made unforgettable by the film’s excellent script and brilliant lead actors. While I may still not enjoy the musical stylings of the Insane Clown Posse, I am “down with the clown” if Off Ramp is playing. Whoop, Whoop.

Off Ramp played as part of The Boston Underground Film Festival on March 22. It is currently touring the Film Festival circuit.

Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston. He loves great concerts, all types of movies, video games, and all things nerd culture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

A woman looking concerned

With Love and a Major Organ Highlights the Things That Make Life Worth Living

A picture of three dead people

Five PG and PG-13 Horror Classics