When the Screaming Starts, 2021.
Co-written and directed by Conor Boru.
Starring Ed Hartland, Jared Rogers, Yasen Atour, Octavia Gilmore, and Kaitlin Reynell.
When Norman Graysmith is invited into the home of an aspiring serial killer, Aidan Mendle, he believes he has the subject for the documentary that will make his career.
If its blatantly Knives Out-cribbing poster might invite low expectations, don’t be fooled; writer-director Conor Boru’s nimble horror-comedy debut When the Screaming Starts has all the makings of a sure-fire cult classic.
Louis Theroux-esque investigative journalist Norman Graysmith (Jared Rogers) has managed to wrangle himself a meeting with an aspiring serial killer, Aidan Mendle (writer Ed Hartland), hoping that the murderous oddball might be the meal ticket he’s been looking for. But as it turns out, “aspiring” is the operative word in Aidan’s job title, as he takes Norman on a comedy-of-errors odyssey that will change both their lives forever.
Far from Rian Johnson’s electrifying whodunnit, Boru’s film is far more reminiscent of all-timer mockumentaries Man Bites Dog and What We Do in the Shadows, melding the ridealong-with-a-murderer vibe of the former with the po-faced absurdity of the latter.
It is a film that thoroughly knows its audience, and plays shrewdly to them throughout; from the jump, we learn that Aidan is an obsessive fan of horror films, whose deranged behaviour ultimately causes him to be fired from his job in a cinema, prompting him to take up killing “full time.”
Though Boru’s cine-literate style, toying with the tropes of the found footage movie, is plenty of fun, what really takes his film over the top is the script, which he co-wrote with star Hartland. The intrigue of the set-up is matched by the abundance of gut-bustingly funny dialogue – such as a running gag where Aidan wants to make sure he isn’t mistaken for a terrorist or racist instead of a serial killer.
There’s a clear desire throughout to send-up society’s disconcerting fetishisation of serial killers – which, courtesy of streaming services feels more enabled than ever before – while increasingly bending the plausibility of the mock-doc aesthetic towards snapping point. Like most good mockumentaries, it has little desire to tangibly explain the physical presence of a camera within these scenarios, instead using the style to accentuate the hilariously mundane nature of Aidan’s quest to become a legendary murderer.
Though this aesthetic can often feel like a cushion for undisciplined filmmaking, that’s absolutely not the case here; the silky smooth handheld camera coverage feels perfectly attuned to the naturalistic performances, aided by Alan Rae’s exacting editing which ensures a propulsive energy throughout. Boru also employs canny use of cutaways to comedic effect, giving the film an almost collage-like feel at times.
Yet the inevitable murder set-pieces still manage to massage a genuine, visceral brutality into the inherently farcical scenario. The growing pile of bodies also circles back smartly to the mock-doc conceit later on, leading to a riotous payoff inspired by a certain cult fave horror-comedy too spoilerific to even mention.
As exceptionally well-crafted as the movie is from a technical and narrative perspective, When the Screaming Starts is also an excellent example of how sharp casting can further elevate a movie. Despite having few credits to his name and possibly starring in the film out of sheer practical necessity, Ed Hartland is an understated blast as budding serial killer Aidan, his increasing exasperation with not being taken seriously reminiscent of Ricky Gervais’ David Brent from The Office.
As his Wednesday Addams-like girlfriend Claire, Kaitlin Reynell is also a total hoot, while Jared Rogers is note-perfect as the deliciously sniveling journalist-filmmaker salivating over the possibility of Aidan making him famous. The wider supporting cast of weirdos recruited into Aidan’s Manson Family-esque outfit are also a memorable and well-selected bunch, the highlight being Octavia Gilmore as the sexy-scary Amy, a wealthy Horse Girl with a major chip on her shoulder about it.
It isn’t easy to do something fresh with the mockumentary or the serial killer movie, but When the Screaming Starts manages both. Delivering fully on the potential of its premise, this witty, stylistically sharp mock-doc marks the arrival of a talented filmmaking voice in Conor Boru.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.