Movie Review: “I Am Not a Serial Killer”

I Am Not a Serial Killer is a film I have had in my queue for a while, with myself often opting out for the same reason I haven’t yet written a review of the Maniac remake – I can only make my wife sit through so much extreme cinema. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I have been housebound with Covid-19 (for the second instance in a very small window of time) and have a lot of time to burn through some of what I’ve been putting off.

Straightaway, I realized that I Am Not a Serial Killer is not that extreme of a film. Although the film doesn’t shy away from a corpse, it is nothing like Maniac, and tonally, balances its dark subject-matter with a wry humor.

Directed by Billy O’Brien, the film is based on the novel of the same name by Dan Wells (interestingly, the novel is the first of half a dozen – although I have little reason to believe this film will receive a sequel). Basically, I Am Not a Serial Killer is about a young boy named John Wayne Cleaver, a troubled boy who’s bullied, was abandoned by his father, and shows sociopathic tendencies. The boy witnesses a murder committed by Bill Crowley, an old man who lives down the street from him, and becomes obsessed with finding out more about him, and, in turn, himself.

I wasn’t familiar with many of crewmembers involved with this film – but I was definitely surprised and drawn in by the inclusion of Christopher Lloyd, who offers a peculiar and captivating performance in his role as Crowley. Honestly, Lloyd’s performance alone should be enough to make you at least consider looking into it.

This is a film that leads you into believing it is headed in one direction, before sidestepping and leading you to a different direction altogether.

The drama is well-acted, with John’s battles with himself. As prefaced, the character has sociopathic tendencies, but is making an effort at keeping himself on the straight and narrow. This is accomplished by establishing a set of rules for him to follow in-order to keep himself occupied and ‘normal,’ and from not murdering anyone.

It isn’t something I feel it sticks the landing on, per se. Personally, I think they could have taken their time a little more on developing certain themes – i.e. his relationship with his father, his relationships with his classmates, etc.

Even the real meat of the film – the back and forth between Bill Crowley and John Wayne Cleaver, while still cool, feels like it left a lot of stones unturned.

All of components come across, but it can also feel a little shoehorned and rushed in some instances. Some of them even feel like loose threads left to dangle by the film’s end. I could imagine this as an instance where the filmmakers wanted to be as faithful to the written word as they could, but that it was difficult to seamlessly fit it all in without overly inflating the runtime. This makes me think a lot more could have been gotten out of it had it been a miniseries rather than a feature length film, but I digress, sometimes that simply isn’t an option.

Thankfully, like I said, the film is interesting and unique, offering a bait-and-switch twist that’ll either hook you in or make you roll your eyes. I had a lot of fun with what they did, blending a pair of horror subgenres that don’t often overlap, but there is a chance you might leave thinking it wasn’t what you expected.

The film is unorthodox and, again, a unique idea, that I can’t necessarily offer a lot of detail on without depriving you of finding it out for yourself. I will say that it leads to some neat visuals that helped make the film aesthetically memorable.

The criticisms I have of the film are less direct criticisms and more about how much more potential I think it had. It’s a decent film, all in all, and one I would recommend, as well, but it doesn’t marry all its different lingering themes before its end, keeping it from being the taut genre-bender I think it could have been.

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