I Am Not a Serial Killer, 2016.
Directed by Billy O’Brien.
Starring Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser, Max Records, Karl Geary, Matt Roy, and Molly Gearen.
A sociopathic teenager discovers that his elderly neighbour may have something to do with a spate of murders.
I Am Not a Serial Killer begins in a not-too-dissimilar way to Tom Holland’s Fright Night in that a small town is being plagued by brutal killings and a teenage boy with a keen interest in such things discovers that one of his neighbours may be responsible. However, the filmmakers don’t make things easy when it comes to defining who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’ and the serial killer of the title could refer to either one of the two main characters.
The boy in question is John Wayne Cleaver (the brilliantly named Max Records from Where the Wild Things Are) and his family own and run the town mortuary, of which John lends a hand with the autopsies. John takes his work very seriously, building up knowledge of the anatomy and trying to apply this and his keen interest in serial killers to work out who is responsible for the slayings in the town, and, as is natural, his bizarre hobbies and general awkwardness make him a target for the school bullies and his concerned teachers, and it also means he has a therapist as he has been diagnosed as a sociopath. When John follows somebody he suspects of being the killer it turns out he was mistaken and his elderly neighbour Bill Crowley (Christopher Lloyd – Back to the Future/Piranha 3D), whom John does chores for to help keep his sociopathic tendencies under control, looks to be the culprit, forcing John to try and stop the seemingly kindly pensioner from killing the townsfolk and apparently stealing their organs, which turns out not to be as straightforward as his criminally-inclined mind would have him think.
I Am Not a Serial Killer sells itself on being one of those quirky and slightly surreal indie horror movies that has a premise that sounds familiar but adds a few twists and turns to throw you off your guard, and for the first half of the movie this approach generally works; the sense of a small town in the grip of an apparent serial killer comes across thanks to the geography of the houses and the interactions of the people we meet, and as a character John is well-written and superbly acted, making him instantly interesting and, despite his odd character traits, slightly endearing. Throw into that an extremely likeable performance from Christopher Lloyd and a bit of black humour that a Halloween episode of The Simpsons may try to evoke and the film does have an off-kilter but hypnotic charm that draws you in.
It is during this first half where the plot takes a turn and becomes something other than a straight murder mystery, with the mystery in this case not being ‘who’ but ‘why’, and unfortunately this is also where the film slowly starts to lose its charm as what should have been a fascinating twist that could lead into something a lot bigger turns out to be a plot device that foreshadows an ending that is as unsatisfactory as it is baffling. Once we know who the killer is and what he does to his victims then something disappears from the film and what we are left with is a second half that feels too conventional to work cohesively with the quirkiness of the first, making the film too uneven to fully work for the whole 100-minute running time.
With strong performances to help carry it, I Am Not a Serial Killer does have that certain offbeat something that will appeal to fans of recent indie horrors like It Follows and The Babadook but despite such a strong setup it feels the filmmakers didn’t really know where to go after all the pieces were in place, which is a shame as there is a lot of potential in all of those individual pieces. However, the end result is a film that is worth checking out once for the curious but doesn’t offer up enough of a rewarding experience to make repeated viewings anything other than frustrating.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★