The modern audience is obsessed with, and fearful of, psychopaths and sociopaths. Popular works like We Need to Talk About Kevin, NBC’s Hannibal- not to mention tragedies like Columbine- have helped build a culture of fear and fascination around the murderous loner. Billy O’Brien’s I Am Not a Serial Killer is an ambitious peek behind the curtain of adolescent angst and damaged psyche, which zones in on the nature of murder and monsters.
Max Records (Where the Wild Things Are) plays John Wayne Cleaver, a misfit who works with his mum (Laura Fraser) at the town morgue and is being treated by a psychiatrist (Karl Geary) for murderous fantasies. When bodies start turning up, John begins to investigate for himself, slowly stepping closer to his own dangerous desires and the potential secrets of his neighbour (Christopher Lloyd).
If you haven’t read Dan Wells’ novel, there’s a whopper of a twist that would be criminal to expose, suffice to say I Am Not a Serial Killer isn’t simply a nifty killer-thriller. Focusing on the characters, O’Brien, with writer Christopher Hyde, play this out as a genre-savvy character study with some big questions on its mind.
It’s a smart move, to turn murder into a kind of character death we really don’t want to see, and it’s a credit to Records’ sparky, emotionally-damaged but loving, loner that we get so involved. Its also a credit to the writers that things never get too ridiculous, even when the humour and last act seem to draw subtly from ‘80s silliness. Here is a film that is successfully equal parts tense, horrifying, surprising, and heartfelt.
Where O’Brien’s Scintilla failed on cohesiveness and intrigue, I Am Not a Serial Killer steps its game up. It’s a hunt-the-killer film which transforms as soon as it starts to wear thin, but it’s also a monster movie with elements of home invasion and psychological drama; a Stephen King adaptation crossed with We Need to Talk about Kevin, peppered with the black comedy tone of Fargo. Essentially then, it’s a cluster-fuck of character study and genre ideas, which has miraculously been delivered in the form of a quiet snowy thriller. Even the look of the film feels loaded with genre significance: Halloween-inspired POV shots give Records’ and Geary’s screen-relationship a Loomis/Myers vibe, whilst the Phantasm-tinged soundtrack helps nail the ‘80s B-Movie feel.
Sure, O’Brien is a bit scattershot with the dialogue by the finale, but it’s an engrossing feature which grants Christopher Lloyd one of his best roles in years, whilst letting Max Records flaunt his undeniable talents as a sympathetic lead. Horror fans will really enjoy this fresh examination of the nature of monsters.
I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BILLY O’BRIEN / SCREENPLAY: BILLY O’BRIEN, CHRISTOPHER HYDE / STARRING: MAX RECORDS, CHRISTOPHER LLOYD, KARL GEARY, LAURA FRASIER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (LIMITED RELEASES/VOD); 12TH OCTOBER (LONDON FILM FESTIVAL); 9TH DECEMBER (OFFICIAL UK RELEASE)
Expected Rating: 4/10