When I saw that Billy O’Brien had a film at Fantasia (International Film Fest) 2016, I was pretty excited. He’s shown that he’s creative and capable of bringing the scares before. You may remember my recent review of his film, The Hybrid. The TL;DR version is: I liked it. And I thought it had some great scary imagery/moments. And in that review I mentioned liking another of his films, Isolation. (a TL;DR within a TL;DR) So, naturally, I looked forward to seeing I Am Not a Serial Killer. How’d it stack up, you ask? Well, read on and find out!
John (the awesomely named, Max Records) is a socially isolated teen with sociopathic tendencies. He’s seeing a therapist and keeps a firm grip on his murderous impulses by following strict rules that he sets for himself. For example, when the class bully gives him shit, he smiles and compliments him. And he’s especially nice and helpful to his elderly neighbor, Crowley (Christopher Lloyd), and Crowley’s wife. (His plan must be working because he hasn’t killed anybody yet.) When mutilated bodies start piling up in his small town he takes an interest. He’s nearly obsessed with death (he even helps his mortician mom out at the funeral home) as it is, so it’s a natural step for him. He learns that all of the murders involved removal of a body part and an oily black (otherworldly?) substance is found at all of the crime scenes. It’s a serial killer alright! Being the town sociopath with a death obsession means that John raises some eyebrows. (and some metaphorical pitchforks and torches) Finding the killer may be more than a curiosity for him. It may be critical.
O’Brien does not disappoint with his latest effort. Max Records, Christopher Lloyd, and Laura Fraser (John’s mom) put in rock solid performances. Lloyd in particular is pretty amazing to watch. And Records’ bullied and misunderstood loner, John, is sympathetic despite lacking sympathy himself. His fascination with the killer is scary. Will that fascination and his sociopathy push him over the edge? He’s a good kid, so we don’t want him to pass the point of no return. He walks a knife edge, getting closer to darkness the more he learns and the farther he’s pushed. Throughout the story, his mom plays the perfect confused mother of a teen doing the best she can. She wants to avoid smothering him, she wants to protect him, she wants to make him see her side of things, and so on. The relationship with his mom is believable. Her frustration with and concern for her child is touching. Once John figures the mystery out (and the killer finds him out), things spiral out of control at a rapid pace. It becomes a nail-biting race to the “Holy shit!” conclusion. Through it all, John learns as much about the killer as he does about his own impulses and his fortitude.
The Final Cut: I Am Not a Serial Killer is a great, intimate story told well. Characters are well fleshed-out and played superbly by the cast.