A budding sociopath keeps himself from killing people by investigating murders in his small town.
Directed by Billy O'Brien
Starring Max Record and Christopher Lloyd
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
The addition of supernatural elements is where the film loses me, both because it’s thematically muddled and because it takes focus away from John. With whatever monster Christopher Lloyd’s character is, the film contrives a way to not make the antagonist wholly evil, in that he needs to kill to continue to live and he needs to live because he loves his wife. That gets the film away from its mirror structure. If John goes on to be a killer, it won’t be because he needs new lungs; he’ll do it because he’s lacking the connection necessary to value the lives he’s taking. If O’Brien and co-writer Christopher Hyde instead mean to demonstrate that a person can have intense human relationships while also being a murderer, then that’s a much less interesting film. The inclusion of the William Blake poem, in which a predator laments the inherent cruelty of its existence, presupposes that monsters like Lloyd’s Crowley have a real-world equivalent. It works great for the character, but it’s in a different film than the one that John’s in. The idea that people are given these compulsive crosses to bear is the most charitable take, but they still have to take the action. The pedophile priests that are back in the news had their monstrous compulsion, but the idea that I should sympathize with their burden that they then made the choice to act on is something I Am Not a Serial Killer is too thin to engage with, if anyone even wanted to.
Like Records, O’Brien doesn’t have anything listed on imdb in the future, which is a shame because while I lose the thread with the film as it nears its conclusion, this is tight visual storytelling. One of the best films of 2018, First Reformed, has a scene of pink gunk filling a container, and it may have aped the embalming fluid scene here. This and other visceral, sensual shots are adjacent to body horror for me, a preferred genre that revels in the gloops and glops that organic substances emit. It’s an example of imagery informing character, as one can imagine John-as-killer, scraping human viscera off a bone much like he does with the chicken leg in the cafeteria.
I Am Not a Serial Killer has its dark charms, but bites off more than was necessary. It’s telling such a good story in the beginning, but doesn’t hold interest as it devolves into a more straightforward cat-and-mouse chase. Despite my reservations and mere appreciation of this film, I hope Records and O’Brien get back to work, as they’re too gifted to not be telling more stories and creating new characters. C+