A movie suffering from an identity crisis, I Am Not a Serial Killer isn't terrible, nor is it particularly good.
It’s hard to define just what Billy O’Brien’s I Am Not a Serial Killer really is. A theme meshing, tone shifting thriller of sorts, it’s a movie which has a very patchy success ratio.
The film, based on Dan Wells’ novel of the same name, tells the story of John, a troubled teenager living in a small Midwestern town plagued by a gruesome serial killer, a killer who John seeks to uncover all whilst keeping his own demons restrained. Relative newcomer Max Records portrays John and he brings a creepy and elusive nature to the character, even if John is light on proper development and characterization, a problem for most of the film in fact. But despite not being given much meaty material to delve into, Records is a capable and somewhat likable lead. Included in the ensemble are Christopher Lloyd and Nee Doah, who play an elderly couple who live across the road from Max, again they’re light on development and material but they provide engaging performances among a cast of rather bland and caricature-type performances. There’s the shouty and stressed mother character (played by Laura Fraser), the hopefully inspirational yet rather ineffective therapist (Karl Geary) and the largely ignored, wannabe quirky best friend (Raymond Brandstrom), to name but a few. Numerous characters and subplots are introduced and hinted at but just seem to disappear into thin air without any further mention or appearance, it’s like O’Brien had a bunch of ideas written up but in his excitement forgot to actually utilize any of them.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t any redeemable aspects of the film; it’s well shot, utilizing numerous close shots for full immersion into John’s story and endeavors and adding a noir-like sense to some scenes contrasting the snowy, sleepy town with the darkness at hand. And the understated yet unsettling score helps to build tension and atmosphere just at the right moments. The psychology of John, whilst muddled in its lack of development, is slightly intriguing as well.
But there’s little else to really like about I Am Not a Serial Killer. There’s an overwhelmingly sense of an identity crisis going on. There are hints of Fargo, Psycho, The Thing and even Stranger Things, but they really don’t mesh coherently. It’s not a logical or intelligent blend and neither is it an entertaining and fun blend; I Am Not a Serial Killer is like a poorly made smoothie. The whole supernatural element to the film (yes the film decides to throw in the supernatural, because why not?) isn’t developed properly and fails to really come to any pay off at the end. The “twists” really don’t come as any surprise and the whole thing is just rather predictable. There’s promise and intrigue within the concept but it fails to achieve what it hopes to.
Overall, I Am Not a Serial Killer is just completely and utterly OK. It’s not bad enough to be outright detestable or unwatchable, but it struggles so much against itself and all the ideas and concepts it wants to throw at you that it fails to rise into something great.
I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016), directed by Billy O’Brien, is distributed by IFC Midnight. Certificate 15.