I Am Not A Serial Killer is very much a tale of two sociopaths. On one hand you’ve got the young John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) and on the other you’ve got the looming murderer (Christopher Lloyd) on the loose in the small midwestern purgatory of Clayton. It’s as much a coming of age story as it is a bloody thriller and while it doesn’t stick the landing on all fronts, it definitely leaves an impression.
I Am Not A Serial Killer constitutes a unique effort on the part of director and co-writer Billy O’Brien. It definitely contains a lot of the tropes of serial killer stories you’ve probably seen before but the way it leverages them to tell John’s story feels very unfamiliar. Equal parts troubled teen and a diagnosed sociopath, the film’s exploration of a could-be killer feels like very fertile ground.
There are definitely comparisons to Dexter to be made but the vivid tension undercutting every one of Max Records’ scenes helps separate the two. The film does an incredible job of flirting with what John could become and the ever-looming threat of him crossing the line and becoming the serial killer everyone fears he might become. Cleverly, the film constantly pivots to emphasize the human stakes here and while John does possess all the warning signs of a serial killer, it’s clear he’s making a genuine effort to subvert them where possible.
It definitely helps that the direction and score of the film act in such synchronicity. It’s gleefully morbid and delights in the desolation of the wilderness that lurks in the background of every exterior shot.
While Max Records’ unnerving performance is very much the centre of the film but the surrounding cast also does a great job. In particular, Laura Fraser does a great job as John’s mother April and Matt Geary brings a distinct swagger and charisma to John’s Therapist.
The only thing that doesn’t quite work here is the supernatural turn that the film eventually takes. The setup of I Am Not A Serial Killer is barely-believable in a good way but its conclusion felt like one leap too far.
In the canon of serial killer thrillers, I Am Not A Serial Killer sits in a very unique space. While its place in that cannon is definitely earned, it’s very tilted towards style over substance. Still, there’s nothing quite like it and Records’ is something that deserves your attention.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
I Am Not A Serial Killer screens at this year’s Sydney Underground Film Festival, which runs from 15th to the 18th of September. Click here for screening times and details. The film will then see a limited theatrical release from September 29th.