I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER: OR, AM I?
In 2005, a movie called ISOLATION was released, which came to be known as “that Irish horror film about the mutant cow monster”. It was audacious, well-made, and managed to milk (pun!) a lot of great tension out of a strange set up. I loved the heck out of it.
Which is why I got all excited when it was announced that the writer and director of that film, Billy O’Brien, was back with a new one called I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, based on the novel of the same name by by Dan Wells.
Having seen it, I am happy to report that it, too, is really great. Yahoo!!!!
It stars Max Records (who you may remember as the kid in the live action film of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE) as John Wayne Cleaver, a teenager balancing precariously on the edge of sociopathy turning toward violence. In other words, he is obsessed with serial killers and worried that he will become one (his name is a great subtle touch, as any reader of true crime instantly bristles when they read a male moniker that includes the middle name—serial killer!).
Compounding things for the unfortunate lad, his mother, April (Laura Fraser) and aunt own a funeral home, and he is around dead bodies a lot. Maybe not the greatest idea, ever, April. Just saying…
Even though John is troubled and obviously conflicted, it is easy to empathize with him as he strives to keep himself in check, while also avoiding contact with most people his age— aside from one friend who talks serial killers with him as they ride their bikes around the crumbling rust belt town where the film takes place. He is interested in the girl across the street, and she is obviously interested in him, and it is painful to watch them interact, knowing what we know about him.
That is all just the backdrop to the main action, however. You see, there is a practicing serial killer in town, who steals seemingly random organs from victims and leaves a weird oily residue at the crime scenes. John, having a firsthand look at the bodies as they come into the funeral home, becomes obsessed with finding the killer.
Which he does…
Suffice it to say, the killer is not exactly human, but not exactly a monster either. The film does a very good job contrasting the protagonist and antagonist: the human who has the feelings of a monster, and the monster who has the feelings of a human. It makes for very touching moments, and moments of real dread. The problem with John is that, when push comes to shove in trying to trap the killer, his instincts turn very predatory. He ends up doing some questionable things that make us worry about whether he’s going to tip over the edge into his worst vision of himself.
The movie is richly evocative, taking place in winter in the rundown town of Clayton, where everyone knows everyone. It features a great performance by Christopher Lloyd as Mr. Crowley, John’s gentle, elderly neighbor, which was revelatory to me—I had no idea he had something like this in him. It isn’t the scariest thing I’ve ever seen, but it makes up for lack of jolts by heaping on loads of tension and dread as the story progresses. It also has a darkly comic vibe that never takes away from the seriousness of the plot.
Having not read the book, I have no idea how it holds up in comparison, but I found this movie to be an irresistible winner.
MY RATING: KILLER!