This film is not a comedy and stars a character called ‘John Wayne Cleaver’; expectations set: Lawrence reviews.
A small town rocked by a series of grisly murders! The police have no idea, and it is up to our plucky teenage protagonist to piece the clues together and bring the culprit to justice!
The central plot of the film (and Dan Wells’ original novel) is traditional enough. However, I Am Not a Serial Killer has enough of its own identity to draw you in and keep you guessing; its rather awkward name alone beckons.
Our hero is John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records); as in John Wayne Gacy, John Wayne Glover, and meat cleavers. Why yes, it was a “Young Adult” novel, however did you guess? (To say nothing of the villain’s name). John is a diagnosed sociopath, and triggers all the red flags indicating “potential serial killer”, including an obsession with the more famous killers themselves. Indeed, John almost feels like it is destined and expected of him, a notion that he resents greatly. He sets himself a series of rules to keep himself in check, though the fact that he needs them to begin with does little to reassure his put-upon single mother April (Laura Fraser). Granted it doesn’t worry her enough that she gets somebody else to assist her with the dissections in the mortuary she owns until she literally catches him messing with one of the stiffs when she’s not there. You get help where you can find it, one supposes.
Evidently “Superficial Charm” is not one of John’s symptoms, as he fumbles through most conversations, whenever he bothers to emote at all. At times of frustration he lets slip the mask a little and it is unclear if what’s underneath is supposed to be menacing or pitiful, what the ratio is if it’s both, and if that’s deliberate or not. His behaviour is more justified than most examples and it’s clear he’s got some depth to him, but you may find yourself making a concerted effort to not just roll your eyes at this misunderstood teenage edgelord.
For someone so fixated on serial killers and their methods, you would think John wouldn’t be so sloppy when he’s up to no good. He regularly follows the killer to scenes of the crime and snoops around while the bodies are still fresh, he says very vague, menacing, and easily misinterpreted things to people who would be very sensible to grass on him, he draws pictures of the crime scenes, including the ones which haven’t been officially discovered yet. It has the audience just waiting for what seems like the inevitable scene where John is accused of being the killer with a mountain of circumstantial evidence, and it was utterly bewildering when this never happened.
I understand the novels possess a first-person narration that the movie lacks. This is perfectly fine; however it means that the director needs to get creative in order to telegraph the protagonist’s thoughts and intent, especially with a lead as terse, inexpressive, and “other” as John. This is well accomplished for the most part, however at times John’s actions seem utterly inexplicable. What does he have to gain from texting those creepy photos to the culprit? Couldn’t he have called his therapist when he was finished breaking into the killer’s home? Couldn’t he have devised a plan that didn’t require immediately tipping off the killer that somebody is on to them?
Where the movie excels is its villain, who is both an interesting character in their own right, and acts as an excellent foil to John. Every serial killer needs a schtick, and this one has got some pretty solid justification for theirs, to say nothing of their surprising likability. My only real complaint in this regard is the passivity of our main antagonist during the final confrontation. You’re pumped for some real John Carpenter shit to go down, but you’re left with a half-empty feeling, surprised that it was all so easy.
Despite my moaning, this is a fun romp. It’s grimy, it’s angsty, and it’s got humour so dark you’ll struggle to see it. There’s an end-of-first-act twist may turn off some viewers, but keep an open mind and you’ll be well rewarded. And of course, it’s always nice to see Christopher Lloyd again; he’s still as endearing as ever, albeit of a different flavour this time.
Incidentally, if anybody intends to make a Bernie Sanders biopic, better do it fast while Lloyd’s still a dead ringer, as opposed to just dea-(You’re fired. – Ed).