Movie Review: I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (2016)

Welcome witches and warlocks,

Today I will be reviewing the horror drama I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER by writer/director Billy O’Brien.  Since it sums up the story pretty well, I will turn to IMDB for the plot description:

In a small Midwestern town, a troubled teen with homicidal tendencies must hunt down and destroy a supernatural killer whilst keeping his own inner demons at bay.

“I could kill him right now; Lord knows I have the capacity.  They tell me I have all the tell-tale signs of a serial killer, so why not start with him?  I have seen the carnage he has left in his wake but something keeps holding me back.  Before me is a butcher of the highest caliber and yet even though I should understand him, I don’t.  Why does he kill; and why, knowing what a monster he is, do I not slay this evil plaguing my hometown?”

This is struggle facing our protagonist, John, as he navigates his small town life.  The interesting thing about how John’s inner battles are presented is that the only clues we have as to what he is thinking at any moment are those provided in his therapy sessions, the things he says out loud, and his performance.  While it may seem as if this provides a lot of information to the viewer, John is not really much of a talker so we spend most of our time formulating what he is thinking based upon the acting alone.  This was something I greatly appreciated as I feel too many movies rely upon voice over narration or clumsy expository dialogue to clue the audience in as to a character’s inner feelings.

Now I will grant, this style of storytelling would come crashing down if not for a great performance; which luckily we receive from the very talented Max Records.  Max brings a likable outsider vibe to the role that helped me to identify with him right away.  When his character, a sociopath, had to start making moral decisions it was refreshing that he was able to clearly portray his inner struggle to not become what those around him expect.  Given that this is a character focused piece that explores the ideas of identity and violence, it is so important to have a great actor that is able to capture the nuance.

The supporting cast proves to be just as strong as our lead with the monster himself turning in a nearly heartbreaking performance.  Since the identity of the killer is revealed fairly early on, the rest of the film is devoted to John trying to figure out what motivates this man to kill.  This leads to some amazing interactions between the two that flesh out both of them in a naturalistic yet lyrical fashion.  By the end, it is hard not to feel a little sympathy for the devil as he ends up coming off as someone who does the wrong thing for what he believes to be th e right reasons.

Since this proves to be more of an exploration of the characters and their motivations, the pace might be a little slow for some people’s taste.  This movie does pump the brakes after a frenetic early scene which allowed them to dig into their themes more than most serial killer fare.  With such rich subject matter, I never felt myself get bored, but those looking for a jump a minute thriller might not react as kindly.  That being said, when it is firing on all cylinders, this is an effective thriller that never loses sight of its characters or small town roots.

Being a literary guy, I also appreciate the symbolic use of the seasons in this picture.  Fall is often seen as the late stages of life while winter symbolizes death.  The fact that this feature utilizes both Fall and Winter is very telling since a lot of the conversation centers on aging and death.  While it may not seem like a lot, little flourishes like this really add a texture to the proceedings.

Now while I am definitely making this sound like an intimidatingly cerebral film, it also has some fantastic touches of humor.  From the brilliantly dark usage of the song Spirit in the Sky to John’s deadpan one liners, they manage to produce some top notch black comedy.  In a way, the humor is intrinsic to the character as John himself jokes about his condition to help himself cope with his disorder.  Even when he threatens the local jock, he does it in such a playful manner that he retains the humor without sacrificing any of his menace.  This sense of darkness is never undercut for a cheap laugh, but instead is used to highlight the very core of John’s character.

All in all, this is not at all what I was expecting, and that is a very good thing.  It is not often I see such complicated material explored with so much confidence.  From the fantastic acting to the wonderfully dark usage of William Blake’s The Tiger, everything about this movie just clicked. It takes the best parts from the early seasons of “Dexter”, but adds a more lyrical slant that makes it something I would recommend to anyone who just wants to watch a good feature.

I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER will be released in select theaters and VOD on August 26th from IFC Midnight.

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