John Cleaver (Max Records) is a diagnosed sociopath, completely aware that he is capable of murder, yet wants to suppress these urges. Working with his therapist, Dr. Neblin (Karl Geary), he has constructed a set of rules and guidelines to ensure the safety of those around him. It should go without saying that he’s obsessed with death and famous serial killers; he even works at his mother (Laura Fraser) and aunt’s mortuary in the evening after school and on weekends. When a series of slaughtered citizens begin to pop up around the community with organs and limbs missing, it captures John’s imagination, propelling him on a solo investigation, slowly evolving into the discovery of a supernatural being.
The film is directed by Irishman Billy O’Brien from the acclaimed novel by Dan Wells. I have not read it, but after watching this fascinating film, it’s now at the top of my to-read list. I Am Not A Serial Killer isn’t concerned with non-stop thrills; nay, it has its agenda on moody, atmospheric development, both for character and plot. Where it goes ends up, I did not anticipate. If you’re wondering if we see a supernatural entity or if the film just shows glimpses, I’m happy to report that we see a creature in all its glory, but not in the way you might expect. Visually, it’s impressive, reminding me of something we could have seen in Labyrinth (which is apt, because Toby Froud, the infant in that film, served as effects supervisor for this). The film shows us only what we need to know from this supernatural entity, never halting to provide some extended backstory, rendering the effect to be far more bewitching.
Max Records has been away from acting for quite some time, and his return is more-than-welcome. He infuses warmth and vulnerability into his character, who is cold and distant towards others. One of the best moments in the film is a quiet exchange between his character John and a bully at a school dance. Dr. Neblin is portrayed as an honest, well-meaning member of John’s life; the story thankfully never tries to make him out to be some sort of cliched unsavory doctor. Laura Fraser, a terrific actress who starred in one of my favorite films of all time, Titus, once again delivers a complex, layered performance. As John’s mother, she never over-reacts to her son’s condition; she may be frustrated, but she’s always understanding, always loving.
I haven’t even mentioned Christopher Lloyd. As Mr. Crowley, the neighbor, he gives what might be one of his best performances. It’s not as animated as his other iconic roles, but it’s just as strong, if not more so. Records and Lloyd have tremendous chemistry, and it’s absolutely wonderful to see them play off one another. There’s a moment with Lloyd towards the end that’s so tender and heartbreaking I wouldn’t be surprised if you cry as a result.
Unlike so many films in this genre, there is a moment where the cops are called, but it ends on a grisly note, which puts an end to that course of action for the rest of the story. However, I kept wondering why John didn’t take pictures as proof and show them to anyone.
Occasionally, we see the Water and Cloud Department Plant, which fires up thick, hypnotic pillows of steam over the town, amplifying its mythic quality.
I Am Not A Serial Killer is a surprisingly poignant and whimsical coming of age horror-drama, showing the beauty in all the carnage. I look forward to whatever Billy O’Brien directs in the future.