I Am Not A Serial Killer – Review
A troubled teen from a small Midwestern town, John Wayne Cleaver, has recently been diagnosed with psychopathy. John tracks a supernatural serial killer wreaking havoc in his tight knit community, all the while trying to keep his own homicidal tendencies in check. The young teen protagonist is obsessed with serial killers, works at a funeral home with his mother, has a therapist, and seems to be constantly questioning his fragile sense of self and sanity. John exists in a position of constant internal struggle, caught between what his mind is pushing him to do and how the world wants or needs him to be. It feels like a portrait of a sociopath – a textbook case study. The film stars Max Records as John Wayne Cleaver. The one and only Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) plays Crowley, Laura Fraser as April (John’s mother) and Karl Geary plays John’s therapist, Dr. Neblin.
I Am Not A Serial Killer is a darkly comedic, self-aware, dramatic thriller/horror hybrid full of gore, dark themes, and unapologetic crass humor. Produced on a budget of $1,329,882, the film had a theater run that was largely limited to the festival circuit, earning the film a rather depressing $26,403. Directed by Billy O’Brien and co-written by himself and Christopher Hyde, the film is based on the 2009 thriller novel of the same name written by Dan Wells. The film has no official rating, but we feel comfortable placing it at a 14-A. I Am Not A Serial Killer clocks in at 1 hour and 44 minutes and it moves along well and never feels like it’s getting bogged down. Although some may classify the picture as a “slow burn,” the film is actually rather tight and every scene feels deliberate and never pandering. If you really analyze the narrative, it’s clear it could’ve very well been a television show and although I really enjoyed the film, I actually would have rather it was.
Don’t let the film’s low score of 6.3 on IMDB deter you from checking it out because you will be pleasantly surprised. If we were to give it a score out of 10, we’d confidently rate it a solid 7.5. There might not seem like there is much of a difference between a 6.3 and a 7.5, but in reality the difference is staggering. We can’t express how strong this film really is. While watching, you’re flooded with waves of genera specific homages. I got vibes of Donnie Darko, Apt Pupil, Dexter, The Good Neighbor, American Psycho, and George Romero’s 1977 film ‘Martin’.
A decent amount of the film plays out like a classic detective story. We follow John as he tries to track down the serial killer terrorising his town by using his unique knowledge of serial killers and personal connection to “the psychotic mind.” His therapist (who is actively engaging in a questionable relationship with John’s mother) constantly tells John he’s “a good person” and that “he’s in control of his destiny.” However, John has a hard time reconciling with this idea because of his psychopathic urges and thoughts. The town seems to know all about John and his suspected tendencies and the fact that his family is in the business of death has some of the townspeople on high alert. While preparing a body he comments, “Two bodies in one week? Thats money in the bank,” while his mother is visibly disturbed and kicks him out of the room.
There’s one instance that stands out and shows just how fragile/on edge John really is. While at a school dance, he has an interesting encounter with a bully where after repeated threats, John proceeds to inform the bully that he’s been diagnosed as having predictors for violent psychopathy and that he sees people as objects. He then tells the bully he considered him to be no more important than a cardboard box. He goes on to say that on the surface, a box is just a box, but it usually has something cool inside and he thinks that if he were to “open him up,” he would probably find lots of cool things inside of him. His connection with his one and only friend is a perfect example of his mental state. In the later third of the film, John is beginning to unwind (like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho when he called his lawyer to confess to his murders). John goes on to tell his friend about his rules and how they help him feel “normal” – he then goes on to tell his friend the only reason he’s friends with him is to essentially “keep up appearances” or to balance out his weirdness.
All in all, it’s a great film and we’re going to avoid going through a full spoiler filled analysis of it scene by scene because we don’t want to give too much away. If you’re a fan of horror or not, you will enjoy it, but it most definitely feels like a love letter to fans of the genre. So give it a watch, but be warned it may have you looking at your neighbors a little differently afterward.