Billy O’Brien’s adaptation of Dan Wells’ cult novel may have taken over six years to reach the big screen but along with co-writer Christopher Hyde, they have created one of the best horror films of 2016. The film retains the basic structure of the novel as teenager John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records), a diagnosed sociopath, investigates mysterious deaths occurring in his small mid-western town. He feels a fundamental connection to the killer as he adheres to a strict set of personal codes on a daily basis to stop himself doing harm to others. Whilst not at school, John occupies himself helping his mother April (Laura Fraser) and aunt Margaret (Christina Baldwin) in the local mortuary and maintaining contact with his therapist, Dr Neblin (Karl Geary) to discuss any burgeoning homicidal tendencies. In order to maintain a semblance of normality John also keeps a neighbourly eye on elderly couple Mr Crowley (Christopher Lloyd) and his wife Kay (Dee Noah). As paranoia takes hold of the small community, John’s investigations lead him to a potential suspect however when that individual places Mr Crowley directly in danger, he discovers something far more unexpected.
Max Records is excellent portraying John’s inner turmoil as he attempts to navigate adolescence, high school, therapy and a total lack of empathy. It is also great to see Christopher Lloyd playing against type and bringing an emotional depth to the character of Mr Crowley. O’Brien and Hyde have laced the film with a very black comedic undercurrent and this enables the viewer to champion Wells’ dark anti-hero. For example, John’s comments and actions during the mortuary scenes are both funny and wonderfully inappropriate. I Am Not A Serial Killer offers up no easy moralities and is essentially a game of cat and mouse which is best viewed with as little knowledge of the narrative as possible. It is also worth catching it on the big screen as cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s use of 16mm gives the imagery and tone of the film a gritty and authentic feel, which harks back to the horrors of the 1960s and ’70s.
The film had its premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival and has been gradually building an impressive word of mouth ever since at various horror festivals. It was made on a relatively low budget and at a recent preview post-screening Q&A, O’Brien stated they did not get the critical interest they were hoping for following the premiere, which is a massive shame. In a year of acclaimed genre releases such as Under The Shadow, Raw and The Master Cleanse, it deserves to sit alongside them all. I highly recommend folks hunt out this film.
I Am Not A Serial Killer receives a limited UK theatrical/VOD release on 9th December 2016. DVD & Blu-Ray releases follow on 20th February 2017.