PLOT: Young small-town sociopath John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) does everything in his power to prevent himself from becoming a serial killer. When people begin dying around town, he diverts his energy into trying to discover the identity of the killer. High on the suspect list is his creepy elderly neighbor Crowley (Christopher Lloyd), who has been acting very strange lately…
REVIEW: I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER is a movie for disenfranchised teens. It is a movie for festival B-side junkies. It is a movie for mumblecore fans with patiences of steel. It is patently not a movie for me, nor – most likely – for you. Its attempt to convert the "Dexter" mythos into a moody teen drama is commendable, but it’s a disappointment on almost every level.
Just like most teens, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER has a tough time figuring out what exactly it is. It goes through phases, dabbling in black comedy, dressing as a psychological thriller, and being halfheartedly peer-pressured into a quasi-supernatural vein. No cut is motivated, with one scene randomly smashing into the next like croquet balls. Without the cliché plot beats that take place on various holidays, there would be literally no way to tell how much time has passed between each sequence. It’s a very haphazardly assembled film, and piecing it together is spectacularly unrewarding.
The narrative takes its time before it goes anywhere, allowing Max Records to build a decently creepy characters out of blank stares and line deliveries where he doesn't seem entirely present. Unfortunately, as the mystery progresses and he begins to act upon his suspicions, actually witnessing killings around town, his performance gets swallowed up as the script almost entirely forgets about the psychological dominos it set up for the character. He gets so wrapped up in solving the mystery that he ceases to be part of the story, and his interesting struggle against his instincts gets lost in the shuffle in favor of a lot of yelling that doesn't really go anywhere.
Luckily, Christopher Lloyd can turn on a dime and wring gravelly menace from his voice so well that you forget he's phsyically unthreatening and barely mobile, giving you the willies anyway. Thanks to both of their efforts, there's always a slight sheen of creepiness to the film, but it can only sustain actual horror for about one scene out of every ten.
I think the biggest issue with the film is that it’s really not as atmospheric as it thinks it is. A metric ton of smoke does not a creepy movie make, and beyond some establishing shots of pastoral beauty, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER doesn’t boast much in the way of style. Sure, there are some decent visual metaphors (shoutout to my favorite, which involves ducks), but they’re so desperately foregrounded that there might as well be a flashing neon sign reading “MEANINGFUL SUBTEXT HERE.”
Some of the movie’s dark dialogue is fun in an anti-establishment, FIGHT CLUB-y kind of way, but John Wayne Cleaver’s greasy string of insta-profundities wears thin after a while. What we’re left with is a wide swath of tedium, punctuated by completely inscrutable gore and a handful of characters who show up time and time again, yet completely fail to make a case for why they’re in the movie.
OK, it’s time for me to muster up my strength and find something nice to say about the movie, because I know it’s probably somebody’s favorite of the year. And more power to them. They have access to the kind of joy I can only dream about. So… The character of Max, John’s best friend, is a delightful bit of comic relief who saves the movie from sliding into a downward spiral of dour self-congratulation. And the effects, when there actually are any, are far superior to what you’d think a movie of this budget could support.
But I must be honest. That’s about it for the “pro” column of I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, which is mostly composed of scenes where Max Records and Christopher Lloyd mumble at one another. I admire its attempt to stack FRIGHT NIGHT and AMERICAN PSYCHO on top of a Dexter framework, but that tower is too top-heavy and comes crashing down within the first ten minutes. The results are a plodding, scatterbrained mess where the good ingredients occasionally resurface, only for the movie to trip over them.