Thursday, September 29, 2016

In short: I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)

On first look, John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) is your typical teenage outsider in your typical US small town – socially awkward, with only one actual friend, and rather more interested in weird stuff than his peers. “Weird stuff” in John’s case being serial killers and death.

Unlike most teenage outsiders, though, John is a diagnosed sociopath who has set himself a whole load of rules he follows to be “normal”, and not go around murdering people. Although as the film – and Records – plays him, I’m not sure his therapist isn’t misdiagnosing heavy social anxieties and depression.

Be that as it may, John’s home town is struck by a series of murders, with the victims brutally ripped apart and missing one body part or organ a piece. Looks as if the place has its own serial killer now. John soon finds out the killer is his elderly, friendly neighbour Mister Crowley (Christopher Lloyd). Turns out the man’s not exactly human. Knowing this and doing something about it will turn out to be rather different things for John.

Unfortunately, the film never really explains why a guy who supposedly has no empathy at all for other human beings would feels the need to do something about Crowley at all, giving us a sociopathic central character whose difference Billy O’Brien’s film never really makes enough use of. In fact, the film seems to shy away from ever facing what it says doesn’t go on in its main character full on, and without the therapist character telling us repeatedly, John wouldn’t actually read as a sociopath. This does of course weaken all of the film’s attempts at contrasting Mister Crowley, who does his deeds to a degree out of love, with John who doesn’t do bad things because it says so in the script, and leaves us with a rather more well-worn story of a small town kid discovering his neighbour is a monster.

I really think the film – I don’t know about the novel by Dan Wells this is based on – misses interesting possibilities there. In general, the film’s approach to everything seems a bit too low key to me, be it Crowley’s true nature, John’s interior life, or dramatic tension.

I Am Not a Serial Killer isn’t exactly boring, mind you, it feels more like an attempt at making a horror movie which follows the outside markers of indie dramas about teenagers and forgets about the bit where it needs to actually build tension. Instead it would rather introduce a bunch of characters who won’t have any import on the plot or its characters (for example, why is the girl who has a crush on John even in the movie?).

The film’s approach just seems a bit too harmless for the sort of thing it is supposed to be about, never actually willing to face the abyss and the things this abyss suggests about people head-on. Instead the film dithers on a perfectly competent level without ever committing to anything terribly interesting.

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