Murder in mind: I Am Not A Serial Killer's dark delights
There's a murderer on the loose in I Am Not A Serial Killer, Irish director Billy O'Brien's new darkly comic thriller starring Max Power as a likeable teenage sociopath in a small American town. David Roy enjoyed this twisted tale of not-so-good vs evil
SIXTEEN-year-old John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) has a problem – a big one. While most of his pimple-popping peers are fretting over homework and prom dates, he's struggling to contain a clinically diagnosed sociopathic streak as wide as the frozen Minnesota River that cuts through his depressingly grey and industrial mid-western town and a morbid fascination with famous serial killers.
However, much to the disappointment of newspaper headline writers, Cleaver is not actually homicidal himself – as reflected by the title of this wonderfully warped horror/fantasy/comedy-tinged indie thriller from Irish director Billy O'Brien (Isolation).
In fact, the teen and the therapist (Karl Geary) he's been sent to by his long-suffering mortician mother (Laura Fraser from BBC's The Missing) have come up with a set of strict behavioural rules to help keep him on the straight and narrow. The most important of these is that, whenever someone provokes his urge to kill, Cleaver simply smiles and pays them a compliment instead.
His mettle is thoroughly tested when a gruesome killer begins operating right on his doorstep: with a head full of Ted Bundy and Dennis Lynn Rader-related trivia, Cleaver is better equipped to perceive the pattern in the murderer's peculiar peccadilloes than the local cops.
Soon, this BMX-riding misfit is breaking his own rules ("No stalking") by tracking likely suspects around town – whereupon he gets the shock of his young life and must decide whether to abandon his strict code altogether for the sake of the greater good and, of course, to finally sate his own dark desires.
Adapted from Dan Well's best-selling young adult novel of the same title (the first of a five book series featuring John Wayne Cleaver's exploits) and featuring a superb turn by Christopher Lloyd as the teenage protagonist's septuagenarian friend and neighbour Mr Crowley, I Am Not A Serial Killer is definitely not just for young adults.
For a start, there's some fairly gruesome slayings, plus an abundance of gory pathology-related scenes – Cleaver's family do own and operate a mortuary after all, giving him full access to the victims of the local serial slayer – and some of the nerve jangling climactic scenes are seriously intense.
Hopefully, 'the kids' will get a kick out of the way the young people in this unpredictable genre-bending film talk and behave more like actual real life teens than the improbably attractive '20-somethings playing high schoolers' who populate the average Hollywood horror flick.
There are also pleasing echoes of Richard Kelly's Donny Darko, John Fawcett's Ginger Snaps and even the Coen brothers in the dark humour at hand in I Am Not A Serial Killer, and O'Brien cleverly infuses the present day setting with the look and feel of 1970s/80s Carpenter, Dante and Spielberg with the help of vintage-skewed set dressing (an abundance of rotary dial phones and old cars, for example) and shooting on 16mm for authentic celluloid graininess.
Gifted Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan (I, Daniel Blake, American Honey) finds weird beauty in the snowbound, slush grey-tinged suburban/industrial decay of the small town setting, characterised by ominous white smoke-belching factories, and there's also a great, very eerie church organ-powered score.
Even the slow-burn pacing is decidedly 'old school': luckily, the awesomely named Max Records (previously seen in Where The Wild Things Are and The Sitter) makes for compellingly odd company the struggling sociopath John Wayne Cleaver, a greasy-haired anti-hero who's more interested in guts than girls – and whom we'll hopefully be seeing a lot more of if the film does well enough to merit a sequel or three.
Of course, only you can help make that happen.
:: I Am Not A Serial Killer is showing from December 19 until December 22 at QFT Belfast, see Queensfilmtheatre.com for tickets and times.
I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (15, 103mins). Drama/horror/thriller.
Max Power, Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser, Karl Geary, Tim Russell, Christina Baldwin
Director: Billy O'Brien
RATING: THREE STARS