I’m having a difficult time understanding exactly why I Am Not a Serial Killer works as well as it does. The movie doesn’t ever fully succeed at any of the various genres it touches: horror comedy, murder mystery, familial drama, creature feature. Its story is frustratingly thin for a plot that shows so much potential in its initial ideas. Big character moments & narrative payoffs feel strangely removed, as if there were entire scenes missing from the film (a possible result of being adapted from a more fleshed out novel). Yet, I left I Am Not a Serial Killer with a fairly positive feeling about it, which means I’m either a sucker for the genre territory it touches in its sprawling horror nerdery or that the movie was doing something charming & worthwhile in such a subtle way that I didn’t at all take notice of the mechanics.
I’m at the very least clear on what the movie’s biggest strength is. The lead performances from old-timer Christopher Lloyd and newcomer Max Records (who is competing fairly strongly with Royalty Hightower for best celebrity name I’ve heard in a while) pull a lot of the weight in terms of the film’s entertainment value. Records stars as a teenage recluse & mortician’s son who’s been diagnosed as having predictors for potential serial killer behavior: pyromania, animal cruelty, stalking. He’s never portrayed to be a bad kid, though, just one who’s oblivious to social cues, unable to see why, in some instances, you can’t just gut someone with food utensils when they’re bullying you at school. As the title indicates, our protagonist never does follow through on his brief flashes of murderous impulses. He instead uses his morbid fascination with the true crime profiles of serial killer “celebrities” like Jeffrey Dahmer & Ted Bundy to track & identify a mysterious killer that’s stalking his small town.
Although it eventually finds some unexpected supernatural territory, the murder mystery at the center of the film is never as interesting as Records’s performance. The way he responds to his sociopathy diagnosis with, “That’s kinda cool,” or confesses to a flirtatious girl at a Halloween party, “I was thinking about dressing up as my mother, but I was worried what my therapist would say,” makes for some great slacker humor in a heightened crisis that calls for a more engaged response. For his part, Christopher Lloyd is as charming as ever as a quietly creepy, but tenderly sweet doddering old fool who knows more than he initially lets on. If there’s anything special about I Am Not a Serial Killer lurking under its Buzzard-esque Gen-X shrug of a coming of age thriller, it’s somewhere in those two actors’ performances and the way they interact.
I can’t help but think that this movie might have worked better as a television show. The non-existent law enforcement, the handsoap-pink embalming fluid & practical effects surgery of its morgue setting, the Toby Froud creature design, and organ music soundtrack all feel like they would be more at home on a serialized horror comedy show like a Buffy or an iZombie. Even the mortician’s name, Mrs. Cleaver, feels written for television. There are enough books in this same series that the material could easily support its second life as a weekly TV series, but I’m not at all negative on the version of I Am Not a Serial Killer that we got here. Even if I’m not sure exactly how or why I was charmed by this low ambition genre jumble, I’m still glad to have seen the performances Lloyd & Records deliver within it. They just might’ve been better served if fleshed out to a season long arc of serialized television.