I Am Not A Serial Killer (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Bulldog Film Distribution) Running Time: 103 minutes approx.
It is probably not much of a stretch to suggest that if one is surrounded by death then an obsession with it is almost certain to follow. The protagonist of this low budget American set – British produced psychodrama fits that bill to a tee.
Teenager John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) lives in a sleepy town in the American Midwest where he aids his mother (Laura Fraser) at her funeral parlour. Having been clinically diagnosed as a sociopath this may not appear like a good idea, but John is able to fight these urges by occupying himself by studying the human body.
When bodies arrive at the parlour with organs forcibly removed and leaking strange black oil, John becomes suspicious of a drifter (Matt Roy) he sees outside the house of elderly neighbour Bill Crowley (Christopher Lloyd). Witnessing Crowley and the drifter taking a ride to the frozen lake, John follows them only to see something he knows no-one will believe, so he decides to take matters into his own hands.
I must apologise if this review veers into glib territory but due to my poor hearing, equally poorly recorded mumbled dialogue in this film and lack of HOH subtitles (come on people it’s 2017) I was sadly unable to fully follow the story and have had to rely on other sources for the main details.
Based on a 2009 YA novel by Dan Wells, this adaptation from Irish filmmaker Billy O’Brien is very much a millennial’s take on the slow burning creepy horror, complete with low-fi visuals shot on 16mm film and the insouciant way the story unfolds. In fact calling it a horror film is a little spurious if one is looking for explicit gore and terrifying jump scares while psychological chiller is probably overstating it just a tad.
John is more likely to appeal to a younger crowd who will be able to relate to him in the way us older folk might find him quite charmless and hard work to warm to. US cinema already has enough lank haired, insular, truculent male teen leads so we may be asking if we really need another one, especially in lieu of the onslaught of broody vampires designed to woo young girls to the multiplexes.
The character of John and the sociopathic tendencies he harbours at such a young age lend itself to an interesting character study but this is something the script doesn’t seem too interested in exploring at any depth. Perhaps the novel delves deeper into John’s mind and covers this in details but here, it is limited to a few chats with Dr. Grant Neblin (Karl Geary).
A natural target for school bullies, John also hangs out with chubby nerd friend Max (Raymond Brandstrom) whose normalcy is the greatest suppressant of John’s demons, along with keeping Bill Crowley company while his wife Kay (Dee Noah) is out. Again, I probably missed a lot by not being able to hear the dialogue properly but I am assuming that the relationship with his mother was solid but occasionally fractious due to his condition.
I’ve deliberately avoided discussing what John witnesses as to not spoil what is a genuine surprise that turns the entire plot on its head. From here, we follow the clandestine investigation as John tries to seek answers without alarming anybody, whilst his own internal struggles are forced to the surface in trying to survive this situation and avoid being the next victim.
However this potential “it takes a killer to catch a killer” feels too underplayed for the most part (again, unless I missed something) only to raise its head in the third act as John has to get creative to trap his prey. The problem is that he rarely displays any the outward signs of someone with such dangerous leanings or even someone on the edge, until late in the film, and it doesn’t even surface during the unexpected climax either.
As such we basically have another moody teen with a better knowledge of the human body than most his own age with a touch of precociousness about him, in terms of planning his investigation. One scene where John does use his diagnosis to his advantage is in repelling the school bully, warning him he would slit him open like a cardboard box if it didn’t mean undoing his hard work in repressing his violent side.
Working to a budget of just $1.45 million, the snowy small town setting and rented locations do the job perfectly, giving an overall impression of authenticity and credibility. The wintry landscapes and cold air creates a natural eerie atmosphere which director O’Brien takes full advantage of. Special effects are minimal but practical which again adds so much to the shocks that CGI would have detracted from.
Despite not being able to warm to John as much as I had hoped to, former child actor Max Records does a commendable job in lifting this complex character from sulky teen to a man on the edge. Perhaps if the latter aspect was given moe room to breathe I might have enjoyed it more, but there is a small display of changeable emotions conveyed when John is in over his head.
Christopher Lloyd has made his name as mad scientists, mad taxi drivers and other quirky characters which he is able to rein in and consolidate to capture the slightly irascible but good natured old man found in Bill Cowley. Arguably the most well known name in the entire film, Lloyd has that uncanny ability to naturally blend in with the rest of the cast whilst providing that touch of veteran gravitas in the process.
I Am Not A Serial Killer is a film I wanted to enjoy more as the core premise is intriguing but not explored to its fullest potential. Some horror fans may find it a bit lacking, possibly finding a more appreciative audience in the indie film community instead.
5.1 DTS HD Master Audio
Phone Box Comparison
Deleted Scenes lake Storyboarding
Toby Froud Monster Selects
Rating – ** ½
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