Every Town Has Its Monsters
It’s day 19 of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature and today we are checking out Billy O’Brien’s award winning horror movie I Am Not a Serial Killer from 2016. I Am Not a Serial Killer is a little bit different from the other movies on this list. It is darkly comical and features a fantastic twist that really sets it apart from similar movies.
Based on the Dan Wells novel from 2009, this is, perhaps, another horror with more of a drama leaning. Deliberately slow paced, it’s a smart horror movie that will likely surprise a few viewers. With that in mind, let’s take a look. As always I will give a quick breakdown of the movie so feel free to skip that if you like.
There was an insane level of hype for this movie. It could be argued it would be almost impossible for it to live up to said hype. Some found it too slow, some didn’t find it scary, many didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Others, however, myself included, really enjoyed the movie for what it is – a fantastic folk horror. With that in mind, let’s take a look at The Witch. As always I will give a quick spoiler free breakdown of the movie that can be skipped if you like.
We have been reviewing a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022 leading up to Halloween. I intended these reviews to be a bit of a shorter format but it kind of didn’t work out that way. Still, we have plenty left with eleven days of October remaining so keep checking back. We are featuring a range of movies from horror classics to international hits and a few indie darlings. You can check out the entire K-O-Ween feature by clicking right here.
I Am Not a Serial Killer follows the story of John Wayne Cleaver, played by Max Records. John has been seeing a psychologist due to having violent fantasies and homicidal thoughts. The psychologist tells John that he is potentially suffering from sociopathy. He is obsessed with serial killers and regularly discusses them with his friend. He also writes about them for school projects, much to the disapproval of his teachers and mum.
John has been working with his mum in her funeral home and this appears to be causing a further decline in his mental state. On a trip with her to a crime scene to collect a body, he notices a pool of black oil on the floor. During the autopsy, it becomes apparent that the murdered person is missing a kidney. A few days later a news report indicates that another murder has occurred and it becomes clear to John that this may be the work of a serial killer.
On Halloween, John and his friend head out for trick or treating. While out, John notices a man acting suspiciously down an alleyway. The pair head off to a school party where John is approached by the local school bully. John compliments the bully before telling him that every time he has a desire to kill someone, he says something nice to them so he doesn’t have to hurt them. John heads back home.
Back at the funeral home, another body has arrived. Believing there is a link between the recent murders, John looks through the body trying to find out if an organ is missing. His mum arrives and, concerned by him looking through the organs from the body, tells him he can no longer work at the funeral home. Incidentally, however, his mum points out that the head of the body was missing.
Wandering around the town, John spots the same person who was acting suspiciously in the alleyway on Halloween night. Noticing that the person is chatting with John’s neighbour Mr Crowley, played by Christopher Lloyd, he decides to listen in. Mr Crowley is going fishing and the stranger wants to go with him. Mr Crowley agrees and the pair head off closely followed by John. What happens at the lake will begin a harrowing journey of discovery for John.
I Am Not a Serial Killer is a psychological horror with a mystery based plot and a whole lot of tension. Placing us into the shoes of a teenage protagonist and set in small town America. The movie feels somewhat similar to recent hits such as Super Dark Times. It feels as though it could have easily been set in the 90s. The movie is filmed in the rarely used 1.66:1 aspect ratio which offers it a nostalgic feel. This is the second movie we have reviewed this week that is filmed in this aspect ratio (The Witch). There is noticeable grain on the film as well as occasional imperfections. There is something of a Stephen King novel feeling to the story and setting. The town is as much of a character as anyone else in the film.
The movie attempts to build up a community of recognisable characters that know each other and are all connected in some way. This plays into some of the later elements of the plot but also gives a nice self contained feeling to the events. The imminent threat facing John feels as though it is right on his doorstep and this creates a lot of welcome tension. It’s claustrophobic in the best possible way. The entire community is impacted by the events going on and everything that happens has ripples. It does a great job of keeping you guessing as to what is coming next.
I Am Not a Serial Killer is set in Midwestern America during fall and features a snow covered landscape that offers the movie a unique aesthetic. Slightly reminiscent of Let The Right One In, the setting is fantastic and the small town has an almost homely and welcoming vibe.
The movie is placed between Halloween and Christmas which I absolutely love. The aesthetic is fantastic and the various events keep the scenery interesting. The holiday season affords an interesting way of helping the viewer keep track of time as well as making this the perfect fall horror movie to watch on a cold evening.
I Am Not a Serial Killer is somewhat different to a lot of horror movies. Featuring a young protagonist that is desperately flawed and only a few steps away from being an antagonist himself; this is a movie with a keen sense of humour and a desire to surprise. I Am Not a Serial Killer attempts to throw a curveball at you straight away with the main character having such a complicated history. John is not like ordinary horror movie “good guys”. The surprises keep coming throughout and it attempts to pull the rug out from underneath you on a few occasions.
John is a disturbed character and most viewers will likely not relate to some of his beliefs. We see the world through his somewhat twisted vision which offers a very unique perspective. John is unaffected by the things he sees but hugely curious as to what is happening. This lends him a lack of fear that is uncommon in horror movie protagonists. He is not afraid to venture into dangerous situations to find out what is going on. Later on in the movie he extends this even further to reveal some of the darkness in himself. It’s a very unique approach and makes John feel as though he is on somewhat equal footing with the things he is up against.
I Am Not a Serial Killer features a very slow burn but the pacing is, in my opinion, perfect. Character development is very important to the plot and John progresses gradually over the 104 minute runtime. Being a somewhat complex character, the movie is in no rush to explain John’s motivations. We grow to understand him more as time goes on and it feels quite organic.
There is a desire to build an atmosphere of tension that is used to increase the impact of some of the movie’s scares. John acts as a voyeur to the lives of the people in the town and spends much of his time sneaking around. He is never too far away from danger, however, and you never quite feel as though he is safe. This makes for some very tense scenes that will definitely have you on edge. As mentioned before, John does not experience emotions or fear in the same way as normal horror movie protagonists. This means he puts himself in situations that are somewhat abnormal for horror movies. It’s a great touch and makes I Am Not a Serial Killer feel very unique.
The first 20 minutes or so may bore a few viewers. The movie takes a little while to get to the meat of the plot but it is worth bearing with. Once everything gets going it never really lets up. The mystery element keeps you hooked as it is so well paced. Reveals come in thick and fast and, once you have seen the initial big reveal, you will want to know more.
Seeing Christopher Lloyd’s name in the cast list you probably know you are going to get at least one decent performance. I Am Not a Serial Killer, however, features a bunch of them. Christopher Lloyd is absolutely fantastic, as always. He can be a little difficult to understand at times due to his character being somewhat old and tired. Aside from that he puts on an impactful performance that is incredibly multi-layered and entirely enjoyable.
Max Records, as John Wayne Cleaver, is brilliant, as well. He perfectly portrays a character that is aloof and somewhat unaffected by the world around him. Being tasked with having such a complex personality, Records manages to put across the difficulties John faces and does so with a wry, somewhat menacing, humour to everything. He displays a range of emotions and is never once anything other than very convincing. It’s a fantastic acting performance and makes for an easy character to enjoy.
The side cast is all great. There are no weak performances but some do stand out as being particularly good or fun. Raymond Brandstorm as Max has some great lines. Karl Geary as Dr Neblin is hilarious with his bird fascination and pieces of advice for John and Dee Noah as Kay is also perfectly fitting. It’s a great cast that does a fantastic job.
I Am Not A Serial Killer is genuinely hilarious at times. John is a funny character with a quick wit and Christopher Lloyd’s Mr Crowley is darkly comical in moments where you would ordinarily think it wouldn’t fit. There are some fantastic scenes that will really make you chuckle. Some of the characters are there purely for comedic value, as well. The comedy timing is perfect and I really appreciate the director’s commitment to keeping it somewhat light.
This is something that may put a few people off, however. Some people aren’t fans of comedy horror and, while I wouldn’t outright class I Am Not a Serial Killer as a comedy horror, it commits to it more than most horror movies do. I wouldn’t suggest that people who don’t like horror with a comedy bent avoid it, though. It’s a seriously fantastic horror movie in its own right, the comedy is just a bonus.
I Am Not a Serial Killer is not a particularly scary movie. It is very tense and has some moments that will have you on edge. There is no desire, however, to attempt to kill the viewer with jump scares. It is far more invested in telling an interesting story and surprising the viewer than scaring them. That’s not to say there aren’t parts that will make you jump, though. They are just not very frequent. Fans of fast paced jump scare horror may get a little bored.
There is a fantastic twist to the story of I Am a Serial Killer that really surprised me when I first watched it. I am willing to bet this is not the type of movie most people are expecting. The twist kind of comes out of left field and is a real shock. You suddenly realise you are watching something completely different from what you initially thought. This may actually put some people off. I think the ending, in particular, may be quite divisive. I absolutely love the twist, however. It throws back to horror of years gone past and it, once again, adds to the uniqueness of the movie.
I Am Not a Serial Killer is a unique horror movie that is both compelling and entertaining. Featuring a protagonist unlike those you normally see in horror, this is a movie that aims to surprise the viewer and succeeds often. While not particularly scary, the atmosphere is consistently tense and will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Featuring stand out performances by Christopher Lloyd and Max Records, I Am Not a Serial Killer is surprisingly funny and the small town story will have you thoroughly engaged. The plot twist is unexpected and may put a few people off. The slow progression of the story might not be for everyone, as well. If, however, you enjoy slow burn psychological horror with a dark sense of humour and a slightly different approach then you need to check this movie out.