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