Movie Review: ‘I Am Not a Serial Killer’
Starring: Max Records, Laura Fraser, and Christopher Lloyd
Plot: A troubled teen with homicidal red flags takes on new fascination when his town is targeted by a serial killer.
As we get ready for the upcoming Oscar season, one more genre picture (as in sci-fi/horror/fantasy genres) gets its jabs in. Genre pictures in general have been especially good lately. I feel like they were really uninspired for awhile, but it is probably about time for those who grew up on crappy genre work to have grown up and joined the industry to either subvert the well-trodden tropes, re-contextualize themes, or return to the good old days of allegory.
I Am Not a Serial Killer is following in a long line of cool flicks. Based on the book of the same name (which I haven’t read, so don’t expect any page-to-screen comparisons), it stars Max Records (Where the Wild Things Are) as John Wayne Cleaver, a teen cut from the same cloth as Dexter (of Dexter, duh). He is a diagnosed sociopath who claims to not understand love or right from wrong. He has a morbid job (working at his family’s mortuary) and morbid hobbies (past serial killers being his topics of choice for school papers) that satiate his homicidal tendencies…for now. He even has his own set of rules that he repeats during the movie. One of those times, while telling off a bully at a school Halloween party, ends up as one of the more memorable moments in the whole movie. However, he is never as dense as he lets on. There is a subtlety to the character’s social interactions that prove that. Or at the very least make him a charming enough character to want to spend time with.
Things start to get a little too close for comfort when a serial killer starts offing people in John’s hometown. John’s fascination with the macabre is challenged. He seems to be coming to the conclusion that he is more bark than bite, that the human side he thinks he lacks isn’t so nonexistent. He starts to become something more like a detective than a monster. In a Rear Window twist, John suspects that his elderly neighbor, Crowley (Christopher Lloyd), might not be as ailing as he lets on. In a surprisingly heartwarming role, Lloyd does some fascinating character work, specifically about the harshness of aging. In one scene, barely able to stand, John carries Crowley while he uses the bathroom, eventually plopping him in the tub while he waxes about his and his wife’s mortality.
In a way it reminds me of last year’s, Spring, a movie I was quite fond of. Its’ sparing use of visual effects and the supernatural allows it to never lose sight of the human story at the heart of it. However, one finale special effect shot ends up much more cartoony than I bet the filmmaker had in mind. Director O’Brien couples this with a 1970s grainy look as well as a certain timeless small town appeal that makes it feel like it could be taking place almost anytime, anywhere. This kind of trust in plot and actors has long been absent from sci-fi, horror, and fantasy, and I am happy to see that new filmmakers like O’Brien find the value in that.