Quite often, you find that you stumble across things that can either be really good or really bad. I was fully prepared to dislike Billy O’Brien’s I Am Not a Serial Killer. It’s the story of John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records), a young sociopath trying to keep his harmful tendencies in check while trailing a serial killer. It’s available on Netflix, and it’s an interesting horror film. Here are five reasons to check it out this weekend.
#1 – The source material
This film covers the first book (with the same title) in a series written by Dan Wells. Despite that it’s a young adult book – which, really, why must everything adapted lately be young adult in nature? – it’s got some adult themes to it, including self-acceptance and self-control. Wells has more books in the series, including Mr. Monster, which deals with our hero trying to contain his darker impulses. It’s worth checking out because it’s more than meets the eye.
#2 – Portrait of a sociopath
Have you ever heard the term gold-star in referrence to a person? It means someone who has some not-so-great impulses that aren’t followed. This story follows John and his diagnosis as a sociopath, or someone who cannot see people as anything other than objects. John’s at greater risk of becoming a serial killer, as he can’t form emotional attachments. John is goldstar, though, and actively works to stop himself from hurting someone. The interesting part of this portrait is that John is not presented as evil. He’s got a great support system in the form of his mother and therapist, both of whom give him coping mechanisms and are proactive in their approaches. Seeing someone struggle to maintain control, knowing full well his limitations and the fact that he cannot feel the way everyone else does… it dodges the easy way out. It’s moving. This film thinks outside the stereotypes.
#3 – Max Records
Records is most notable for his work in Where the Wild Things Are, which he filmed as a child after being hand-picked by Spike Jonze. His resume isn’t large, but this is an impressive entry. The portrait of John could have gone horribly wrong with a poorly-fitting actor in this role. Records presents someone who is awkward yet self-aware. He has some great scenes of interaction that had me either empathizing or fearing him. There’s one scene where he’s smiling the entire time and manages to chill you to the bone, yet you can’t hate on him; I won’t spoil it. That’s a tough tightrope to walk when playing a dude that can’t connect to anyone, and yet Records nailed it as a kid that the audience wants to win despite his condition. Watch this guy; he’s going to do something great.
#4 – Cinematography
Robbie Ryan did the cinematography for this film. The film changes seasons almost seamlessly. There are some films that seem to go from autumn to winter and it feels, well, fake. This one looked asthetically pretty, as well as realistic. There are scenes with snow that are quite beautiful if you stop to take a look at them. I liked the team of Ryan and director O’Brien – I felt they were on the same page in terms of what to convey through setting and how to get there while remaining gorgeous. Definitely worth the view.
#5 – Brutal honesty
If nothing else, this film is blunt. It treats everything from the nature of friendships to the social conventions we maintain with absolute honesty. Sometimes, the honesty is satisfying, such as when John confronts a school bully with his coping mechanism. Other times, it’s terrifying because it forces you to question your relationships with others, and whether or not we truly feel something or just go through the motions because it’s expected. It’s a reminder that sometimes, we have to face things that aren’t savory. Like it or not, life has to get faced.
This film may not be for everyone, but if you’re looking for something outside of the norm, check this out.