New Release Review - I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER

A teenage sociopath learns his neighbour is a responsible for a series of murders in the local community.

Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Billy O'Brien

Starring: Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser, Max Records, Karl Geary

The performance of Max Records is both creepy and compassionate. Watching him slide towards succumbing to his violent impulses is quite gripping, but ultimately the film's central plot proves a far less interesting distraction.

Two recent supernatural themed indies have revolved around the employees of funeral homes. I Am Not a Serial Killer is somewhat more grounded than the more overt horror of The Autopsy of Jane Doe, spinning its tale of an unearthly killer in deadpan fashion, filmed with a dearth of style and a focus on the mundane and everyday.

The title of director Billy O'Brien's film, an adaptation of a novel by author Dan Wells, is also the refrain of its protagonist. Due to his obsession with serial killers, on-the-nose named teenager John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records, that kid from Where the Wild Things Are) has been diagnosed by his therapist as a sociopath, and a potential serial killer himself. When the corpse of a young woman is wheeled into the family mortuary where he works alongside his mother (Laura Fraser), he refers to the corpse as an 'it' and is quickly reminded that the body is still a person. Cleaver confesses that in his eyes, people are no more relevant than cardboard boxes, and sometimes he has to control a desire to open them up to see if there's anything more interesting inside.

Someone else in Cleaver's small Minnesota community seems to share his feelings, as the town is currently falling prey to a serial killer, one who steals a part of each victim's anatomy. When Cleaver follows his elderly neighbour - another character with a groan-inducing name, Crowley (Christopher Lloyd) - one afternoon, he is shocked to discover that not only is Crowley responsible for the murders, but he's an alien being who kills his victims by sprouting a deadly black appendage.

I Am Not a Serial Killer borrows from a well-worn template that we've seen employed in everything from Fright Night to Let the Right One In. What sets it apart is the novel idea of making its protagonist a budding killer himself, and this is by far the film's most interesting element, thanks chiefly to a performance from Records that's both creepy and compassionate. Watching him slide towards succumbing to his impulses is quite gripping, but ultimately the central plot concerning Crowley proves a far less interesting distraction. A sub-plot involving a teenage neighbour's (Lucy Lawton) attraction to Cleaver is initially intriguing but leads nowhere, as though the screenwriter simply forgot about this strand.

It's difficult to discern the tone O'Brien is striving for here. While the script often leans toward the blackly comic, the bland televisual direction and editing fail to allow any potentially humorous moments to breathe. There's a great movie lost in the mix somewhere here, but we're left wishing to open up the movie like one of the potential victims in Cleaver's disturbed mind to see if we can find it.

I Am Not a Serial Killer is in cinemas and on VOD December 9th.

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