|'The interplay between Records and Lloyd is consistently superb'.|
In the hands of a different director, an adaptation of Dan Wells' novel I Am Not A Serial Killer could easily have become a retitled, sanitised YA feature for the 12A market complete with embattled teenage protagonist and a ready-made franchise in Wells' series of follow-up volumes. Thankfully that's not the film Billy O'Brien sets out to make, ensuring his film retains both its indie roots and a palpably mature tension as well as offering a blackly comic undercurrent at the right moments throughout.
The first act provides a character study of fifteen-year-old antihero John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records). A gift of a character, John is simultaneously obsessed with serial killers and with not becoming one himself whilst receiving therapy for diagnosed sociopathy. Records' performance in the role is virtually flawless, ensuring John's idiosyncrasies never become quirks for the sake of quirkiness and effectively putting across the character's troubled mind. A scene in which John gains the upper hand over a bully at his school Hallowe'en party is particularly memorable, perfectly showcasing just how good Records is as John.
After a series of brutal murders in the small town and a supernatural revelation towards the end of the first act, the focus then shifts to John's suspicions and subsequent investigation of his neighbour Mr. Crowley (Christopher Lloyd). Whilst the step back from John's own psyche is a necessary sacrifice, the interplay between Records and Lloyd is consistently superb. Anyone who's seen Sin City: A Dame To Kill For will know how effective Lloyd can be in crafting a truly unsettling performance, and the veteran actor doesn't disappoint here.
Whilst O'Brien allows the cat-and-mouse games between the two go on for a little too long before bringing matters to a head, the paranoid atmosphere the director creates ensures that I Am Not A Serial Killer is continually a gripping watch even when he loses focus a little. The film is also buoyed by the other people in John's life, particularly his conflicted relationship with his mother April (Laura Fraser) and therapist Dr. Neblin (Karl Geary).
The only significant misstep O'Brien makes is in the film's climax, making the classic error of revealing too much of the film's supernatural side and losing a great deal of the mystery surrounding it up to that point. We don't need everything spelling out to us like this; O'Brien never feels the need to go nearly so obvious with any other part of the story, so both his reasoning and execution feel uncharacteristically flawed. For the majority of its running time, however, the director and his cast ensure that I Am Not A Serial Killer distinguishes itself as a distinctive and well-crafted thriller.
The 30th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 3rd-17th November 2016 at thirty venues across the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.