THIS REVIEW CONTAINS A SPOILER THAT THE NETFLIX AND IMDB DESCRIPTIONS ALSO GIVES AWAY.
John Wayne Cleaver is a troubled young man. He’s a sociopath whose trying to stay on the right side of the law while helping his mortician mother in their family business. When he figures out that kindly old neighbor Mr. Crowley (Christopher Lloyd) moonlights as a killer, it makes John confront his own demons while trying to find a way to stop Crowley’s killing spree.
I Am Not A Serial Killer isn’t really the film I expected it to be. I saw a preview for this film earlier last year and was intrigued. Until seeing the film, I was unaware of the twist that every synopsis I’ve read since seems to give away. Perhaps had I been ready for the twist, I’d be alright with it. I now understand why people who were unaware of the concept of From Dusk Till Dawn (gritty crime flick turns into vampire siege flick) were disappointed in it. While, I didn’t hate I Am Not A Serial Killer, I also felt it didn’t quite work.
Director Billy O’Brien does a solid job directing I Am Not A Serial Killer, and captures the tone of what John’s going through. It’s a beautiful film to look at and a few of the shots and visuals are iconic enough to solidify this film as a future cult classic. The film is shot mostly in flat, steady shots with muted colors that show how the character views the world. The snowy and cold Midwestern landscape is showcased of a period of time in the Fall and Winter time of the year, in which it is the coldest. The landscape is a nice reflection of the characters mental state and ties in well to the story. The procedural nature of I Am Not A Serial Killer gives it a sense of realism and sadness, and when the left turn happens where we find out what Crowley is takes away from it. The supernatural elements don’t mesh well with the realistic tone the film had established and this took me out of the story. On the plus side, Christopher Lloyd is talented enough to make most of his role as Crowley and the majority of it works. He’s terrifying, sad, and his anguish expressed during the finale sell the character to the audience (before all the supernatural stuff happens).
I Am Not A Serial Killer is based on the book of the same name by Dan Wells. It’s a young adult novel and the first in a series following the misadventures of it’s heroic sociopath. I have not read the book, but I can see the ideas on display working better in a novel rather than in a film. But I still can’t help feel it’s almost like both adaptations throw the twist in just for the sake of it. I think the story of a potential killer tracking down other killers, though slightly derivative (Dexter), is told strongly enough on it’s own that it doesn’t call for the twist. But after the film was over, it did make me re-evaluate the title, “I Am Not A Serial Killer”. It’s subtly clever as the description applies to both characters.
With that out of the way, I give credit to young actor Max Records for his work as John. Records established himself playing young troubled characters in Where the Wild Things Are, and he brings a lot of that energy to John Wayne Cleaver. The role calls for a lot of emotional changes as the film goes on. I appreciate they played this kid suffering from mental illness not as a romantic character, or something that is “cool”. I Am Not A Serial Killer manages to strike a balance between having John wear “cutesy” stuff like the Panda ski mask, while also staying on the right side of not being someone who’d hang out at Hot Topic. I appreciated that. In some ways, Max Records reminded me of John Amplas work in Martin; but I Am Not A Serial Killer is based on a young adult story and doesn’t go nearly as dark as Martin or take the character of John to the extremes it could have (or, perhaps, should have).
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