“You have a lot of predictors for serial killer behaviour”, explains Dr. Grant Neblin (Karl Geary) to his fifteen-year-old, disaffected patient John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records). This isn’t your everyday diagnosis and it’s safe to say John isn’t your everyday teenager, he holds a morbid obsession for serial killers and the bodies that are embalmed in his family’s funeral home.
Despite his homicidal urges, John manages to keep his impulses largely in check thanks to a strict set of rules he follows to help quell his desires, even in the face of bullies who mock his predicament. But when a string of murders take place in John’s sleepy Midwestern town, he starts struggling to suppress his sociopathic thoughts as he becomes embroiled in his investigation to expose the serial killer behind these gruesome homicides. Mysteriously, each dead body is found with a different organ missing and a puddle of sticky black goo is discovered at each crime scene. John’s investigation leads him to suspect his elderly neighbour Mr Crowley (Christopher Lloyd). This frail, doddering man seems an unlikely candidate at first but things aren’t what they seem in this genre-bending, off-kilter delight.
Based on Dan Wells’ novel of the same name, Billy O’Brien’s I Am Not a Serial Killer follows a slow-burn narrative which is effective in carefully generating an eerie atmosphere, but disappointingly transparent in its treatment of the murderer’s identity. What makes the film such compulsive viewing is the superb central performances at its heart. Lloyd is brilliant as Mr Crowley, he exudes malevolence and menace yet his tender love for his wife provides some scenes of genuine poignancy. While Lloyd’s presence is likely to attract the most attention, it’s Records’ performance which really resonates. After a five-year absence from film Records jumps straight into this daring role and delivers an honest, refreshingly original portrayal of teenage mental illness. Records radiates a raw energy and natural charisma which gives him an extremely engaging and likeable screen presence - let’s hope we don’t have to wait another five years to see him acting again.
Cinematographer Robbie Ryan shoots on gorgeous 16mm, imbuing the film with a grainy texture which captures the snowy landscape of the town beautifully. Adrian Johnston’s synthy, Carpenter-esque score accompanies the visuals and adds to the nostalgic, unsettling tone of the film. Considering the film’s modest budget, the gore and special effects are adroitly rendered too. The film’s fantastical twist may dissatisfy some viewers who don’t sit comfortably with genre mash-ups, but we thought it was a refreshingly inventive and expertly-staged revelation which provided a satisfying conclusion to the narrative.
The less you know going in, the more you’ll enjoy the film’s idiosyncratic charms. Sharply told by O’Brien and fuelled by two brilliantly memorable performances, I Am Not a Serial Killer is a darkly humorous, original, and consistently fun genre-hybrid.
I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BILLY O’BRIEN / SCREENPLAY: CHRISTOPHER HYDE, BILLY O’BRIEN / STARRING: CHRISTOPHER LLOYD, MAX RECORDS, LAURA FRASER, KARL GEARY / RELEASE DATE: FEBURARY 20TH