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I Am Not a Serial Killer
by Billy O'Brien

The horror pool is a deep one. It's a vast genre, just as respectable as any other, that can encompass all different undertones and emotions. I'm not especially supportive of people going on about how horror films are “supposed to be” as if it's some kind of scientific equation or a status quo. I'll occasionally see films and say to myself “Now that's a great horror film!” but it's not a universal thing. This was going through my head while watching the tense horror film I Am Not a Serial Killer. Allow me to tell you why.

Based on the Dan Wells novel of the same name, I Am Not a Serial Killer follows troubled teen John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records). John regularly sees a therapist (Karl Geary) and is considered to have antisocial personality disorder. He is referred to as a sociopath on several occasions and has trouble fitting in with those around him. He has one real friend named Max (Raymond Brandstorm) who he considers “normal” and doesn't really share his morbid interests. These subjects that intrigue John include serial killers and the bodies that come through his mother April's (Laura Fraser) funeral home. He helps with the embalming process, something that he seems to get a lot out of, more so than anything else in his life.

The town is facing the unfortunate predicament of its residents being murdered by an unknown force. The early reports are that the deaths are like bizarre animal attacks. John's interest is piqued and he begins looking out for odd behaviors in the town. The behaviors soon lead to his seemingly kind neighbor Mr. Crowley (Christopher Lloyd). The film follows John's simultaneous attempts to get a grasp on his own inner self as well as investigate the mystery of what is going on around town.

I purposely will not delve too far into the specific beats of the film as it's largely about one thing leading to another and its strength lies in the mystery and tension of what's going on and how things will play out. I felt engaged all the way through and had multiple guesses throughout as to how it would end up, all of them wrong. The film winds and turns, all against the well shot backdrop of cold and snow.

The movie uses holidays to sell the passing of time. From Halloween to Thanksgiving and finally culminating around Christmas time, it's a smart move that keep the project moving along at a neat and even gait. Some movies have strength in their erratic nature and chaos but this isn't one of them. It's a slow burn of a project, a whisper that rises to a scream. The early gentle momentum serves to up the intensity when the speed of events becomes brisker in the third act.

I found much of the acting to be particularly of note, especially from the always-fantastic Christopher Lloyd and lead actor Max Records, who really impressed me. I've seen a number of films dealing with troubled teens and their dark tendencies. Some have been strong performances where others have been cringe-worthy. Records' work in the film thankfully falls into the former category. He gives a subtle, carefully delivered performance that never feels forced or inauthentic. He doesn't try too hard to look cool and edgy, but more so is a surprisingly sympathetic character conveying a wide array of genuine emotion.

Personally, I don't think the people around John are right about him; to the extent where I think that's an intention of the movie. There are times where he shows concern for the welfare of others. He doesn't take joy in causing pain or torment. He's a unique character who seems to be playing along with what the people in his life have pegged him as and that takes its toll on him at times. There's a hint of sorrow to the project that carries through every participant and John is firmly on the outskirts, peering in, more affected by his issues than he wants to admit.

The film utilizes gentle touches of humor at just the right times and it never distracts from the overall bleak feel of the project. The tension used in the more suspenseful scenes is highly effective and the music accents it wonderfully. The film itself was made on a rather modest budget, but I wouldn't have even known that without being informed through research. It doesn't have a ton of crazy special effects or anything, but it's shot beautifully and makes use of every dollar.

The plot somewhat reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Serial Killing 101. Both films deal with a serial killer obsessed high school student who fantasizes about murder while investigating an actual murderer stalking their area. The films are wildly different however, not only in where they go, but in tone. Whereas Serial Killing 101 is a fun, lighter project that never gets too serious, this one is a more brooding work that makes its own mark. The only reason I bring this up is to showcase how unique I Am Not a Serial Killer ends up being as well as how competently it utilizes the chosen style. It's neat to see how two films that sound similar on paper take on life of their own and I can honestly say this new film was a completely standalone experience.

I won't spoil anything about the ending, but will say that I was very satisfied and happy with how it all turned out. The story was deserving of the conclusion it was given and left with just the right feeling. All in all I was quite impressed with the film and hope to see more from those involved. It's not an in-your-face type of experience, but a calm, winding tale that knows how to pace itself and deliver at the same time.

P.J. Griffin, HMS

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