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A Serial Killer's Guide to Life review
A meek young woman unwittingly embarks on a road trip with a serial killer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Staten Cousins Roe

Starring: Katie Brayben, Poppy Roe, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Sian Clifford

a serial killer's guide to life poster

For much of the history of the thriller genre, men found themselves being led astray by femme fatales. Then in the '90s we saw the emergence of the homme fatale. Embodied by the likes of Rob Lowe in Bad Influence and Brad Pitt in Fight Club, this was a new breed of handsome, charismatic alpha males who took socially inept nebbishes under their wing, introducing them to a seductive and dangerous new lifestyle. Inevitably, their once meek charges turn the tables on them when they realise their charming new buddy is actually a sociopath.

a serial killer's guide to life review

In writer/director Staten Cousins Roe's feature debut, A Serial Killer's Guide to Life, this idea gets a feminine spin. Mousy and put-upon Lou (Katie Brayben) is stagnating in her windswept English seaside town. She lives with an insufferably overbearing, religious mother (Sarah Ball), who keeps her daughter under her thumb, and when she meets old school friends they patronisingly rub in how successful their lives have become.

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Determined to improve her lot, Lou is addicted to self-help courses, and attends lectures put on by unconvincing, sloganeering charlatans. It's at one such event that she encounters the glamorous and confident Val (Poppy Roe), a life-coach who appears to see some potential in Lou and offers her the chance to accompany her on a road-trip. In defiance of her mother's angry disapproval, Lou accepts the invite and hits the road with Val for a tour of middle England's various therapy facilities. What Lou doesn't realise is that Val is a serial killer.

a serial killer's guide to life review

Much like Ben Wheatley's Sightseers, A Serial Killer's Guide to Life plays out like a blood-soaked riff on Mike Leigh's Nuts in May, with a murderous anti-hero traversing the English countryside, enacting violence on anyone whose way of life annoys them. In this case, Val seems to hold a serious grudge against life-coaches and the self-help industry, slaying gurus and their clients alike, initially behind Lou's back. But Lou has been harbouring her own murderous impulses, and it's not long before she's gladly joining in with Val's bloody rampage.

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Self-help is something of an oxymoron, as if you have to seek the advice of an expert, who will likely fleece you financially, you're hardly helping yourself. Life-coaches have become the secular world's replacement for faith healers and snake-oil peddling preachers, and while a small, gullible section of the population fall for their dubious sales pitches, most of us hold them in contempt. They're an easy target then for a satire, and it's initially humourous to see these pretentious twats get bludgeoned and stabbed by Val, but after a while it becomes a little monotonous, and there's something a bit Piers Morgan-esque in how annoyed the film seems to be at the self-help industry (let's face it, there are more deserving targets of ire and rage out there).

a serial killer's guide to life review

What holds it all together is the interplay between the vampish Val and the klutzy but likeable Lou. Brayben and Roe share a cringey chemistry, the former's adorable sweetness a comic counterpoint to the latter's deadpan delivery. As Lou gets sucked further into Val's homicidal philosophy, it becomes clear that Lou's innocence was something worth clinging onto rather than escaping from, and Brayben's sympathetic performance adds a melancholy air of impending tragedy as we witness a once wilting rose use her prickly thorns to draw blood from a society that has no place for her.

A Serial Killer's Guide to Life is on Arrow now.