Billy O’Brien/ Ireland UK/ 2016/ 103 mins
On DVD and Blu-Ray Mon 20 Feb 2017
“You’re a good person,” says psychiatrist Dr Neblin to his teenage client, John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records). John isn’t so sure. Like many his age, he’s obsessed with serial killers – he’s even the namesake of the infamous ‘Killer Clown‘ – but he’s also slotting far too neatly into the brackets that would mark him out as a violent sociopath. He sets himself a code to ensure that he never acts on his impulses. However, murder begins to stalk his Midwest town independently of him. John decides to play detective, partly from curiosity and partly out of attraction towards the delectable devilry he may uncover.
Billy O’Brien’s wide-eyed genre gem carves its recognisable touchstones and impeccable influences into something all its own. It’s a twisted take on the coming of age tale as well a murder mystery with a supernatural edge. Max Records is as engaging as he is jaggedly off-kilter, particularly as John realises his dark half may need to come to the fore in order to catch a bestial adversary that may well not be human. His chief suspect is an amiable old gentleman played by Christopher Lloyd, who has lost none of the eccentricity of old.
John as a character could be Dexter – the teenage years. His mother (Laura Fraser of Breaking Bad fame) runs a mortuary business which has done nothing to aid her son’s questing grasp towards normality. It does, however prove a valuable resource for his detective work as the mangled victims appear on the slab minus sundry organs. The mystery doesn’t last for perhaps as long as it could have, but like its obvious progenitors like the small town dystopias of David Lynch, the joy is in the surgical glee with which O’Brien flays the skin from small town America.
I Am Not a Serial Killer also very much looks the part. Adopting a convincing retro feel despite its contemporary setting, it goes for a similar aesthetic to the recent Stranger Things, complete with 80’s sci-fi title font and the now requisite analogue synth score. The prolific Robbie Ryan (American Honey, I, Daniel Blake) lenses in grainy 16 mm, emphasising the bleakness of the chilly Minnesotan setting. His naturalistic style keeps things grounded in reality even as the narrative begins to highlight the absurd and fantastic.
All of this was achieved on a miserly budget; the only thing belying it being some slightly shonky CGI at the end, although this also adds to the oddly charming retro feel. It may lack the obvious pizazz to come to the attention of the casual moviegoer, but with the appetite for the dubious nutrition of classic genre fare currently high, this could well be regarded in time as a cult favourite