HOW TO BE A SERIAL KILLER
Reviewed by: Ryan Doom
Matthew Gray Gubler
and Laura Regan
What's it about
A charming serial killer gives step-by-step instructions to the audience as well as to his new protégé who accompanies him for kills.
Is it good movie?
Plenty of movies exist about serial killers. American Psycho, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Silence of the Lambs, Zodiac, Copycat, Boston Strangler, Man Bites Dog, and many more. The question becomes what more can be added to this genre? Is there a new story tell? How can you improve? Well, the latest to try to crave up the genre is How to be a Serial Killer which combines elements from all of the above movies to create a singular look at how a killer, Mike Wilson (a good performance by Dameon Clarke), kills and still manages to hold a good job and a hot girlfriend. But being the egomaniac that all killers are, Mike decides to help out push over/dork/video clerk Bart during a random video store encounter. Mike quickly takes him in to teach the very fine skills of how to commit murder and get away.
Now all killers have their reasons to kill. For Mike, he wants to remind people that they should appreciate their lives, to love every moment here on earth. It works, but it isn’t a new concept. I first recall this idea from Fight Club where Tyler Durden would terrorize and intimidate just to make his victim feel alive again. But Durden didn’t kill, which makes more sense. It’s pretty tough to remind people that they should cherish life if they’re already dead. Also, the fact Mike takes on Bart as a partner seems idiotic. Bart’s a stiff and dresses like Monk from the TV show, and I see no reason whatsoever why Mike would take him on. They’re just not a good pairing ala Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
How to be a Serial Killer incorporates two proven film elements. One: the use of a mockumentary with interviews from the killer, the girlfriend, the protégé, and the psychiatrist. Two: Mike’s onstage lessons, where he appears as a self-help expert throughout the film to tell his audience about the ways to kill. The mockumentarty itself isn’t a new concept for serial killers. If you’ve never seen the French flick Man Bites Dog, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s very similar but much more effective in the balance of comedy and horror. Mike’s onstage performances are new to the genre, but I’m not convinced they work even with a metaphorical meaning behind them.
The main problem with How to be a Serial Killer comes from the moments of unbelievable stupidity. Now all films have these moments, but How to be a Serial Killer has more than any film should. Too many. From the cops, to the crimes, to a lack of scariness from Mike, it’s all too jokey. Mike’s utter likeability is his downfall as a character. He’s too fun loving, not dangerous enough. The thing that made Patrick Bateman interesting came from his ability to switch to and from psycho. When blood flew, it became unsettling despite the comedy. In turn, very little actual horror that takes place in How to be a Serial Killer. No matter the crimes that the pair have committed, no matter how screwed up the situation is, a continuous playful bass line throughout that gives funk when no funk is really needed. And if the music suggests that we should take none of this seriously, isn’t that sending the wrong message?
Video / Audio
Video: A crisp and clear 16x9 Widescreen presentation.
Audio: Presented with the power of 5.1 Surround.
Deleted Scenes: About 18 minutes worth of cut sequences, most of which are fake interviews about how Mike has changed the lives of those around him.
Body Count: Here’s something I’ve never seen before. Instead of any sort of production information, producers went with a scrolling list of things that occurred in the film, such as the body count, number of squibs used, and how many gallons for fake blood. How about that.
How to be a Serial Killer plays like a TV show pilot as I can see viewers tuning in week after week to see what lesson Mike can teach us and the crimes he commits. Falling somewhere in the dark comedy category, the film struggles to find an approrate balance with no effective moments to contrast the light and the dark. Even in murder, the film’s funky jazz soundtrack eliminates any potential terror. Instead, it trivializes. A lot of potential here in a decent movie that just doesn’t live up to the tradition of big screen killers.