Billy O’Brien’s I Am Not A Serial Killer—based on the book series written by Dan Wells—brings a refreshing twist to the genre, and one that’s swept in murder and mystery. It’s a unique spin on a subject that has long terrorized horror, injecting it with a supernatural element that unfolds a disturbing tale of murder in a small Midwestern town. In it, a troubled teen with homicidal tendencies finds himself on the hunt to destroy a killer whilst keeping his own inner demons at bay.
The film’s immediate hook is that it’s grounded in a very real world—it’s set in this mundane little town littered with boring shops and boring people; nothing about it stands out and the wintery setting makes it feel frigid and alone. It’s that ordinary atmosphere, strange as it may sound, that eventually gives I Am Not A Serial Killer life. What I mean is that the film ultimately uses that plainness to its advantage, because once it blends the real with the unreal, unveiling its otherworldly twist, it adds a powerful and unexpected wrinkle to the narrative—so what’s first established as realism is quickly turned on its head with a shocking twist. It’s really a fantastic way to tell a story such as this one and was no doubt one of the best things about it.
It starts with a string of killings that shatter a small town, leaving fear and uncertainty behind, with a kid caught right in the middle—a kid that happens to be obsessed with murder and on the very edge of darkness himself. It’s a fascinating and altogether bleak portrait of a kid surrounded by death, the one thing that incessantly fuels that horrible fire inside him. But it’s that very concept of someone who’s battling himself from becoming a monster while simultaneously on the hunt for one that makes I Am Not A Serial Killer so captivating—couple that with a wintery, snow-swept atmosphere and you have a fantastic setting for a horror film.
The story quickly becomes almost cat-and-mouse like, centering the narrative on this kid trying to track down who, or what, is behind the murders. It immediately puts you on edge by delivering a shocking twist in the first act, firmly setting up the rest of the film. But because it sets the bar so high early on, the middle of the film feels like it slows to a crawl, delivering a story that unfolds in slow-burning fashion. It eventually works, but I think that because it hit so hard early on, that the rest of the movie struggles to find the same kind of impact it had in the beginning. What ultimately holds it together, despite it dragging in the middle, is that much of the narrative is shrouded in mystery, so there’s plenty of intrigue that carries the film into the final act.
But the final act isn’t without its faults, either. While I quite liked the direction the film goes in, the problem with the end is that because the middle is so slow, it tries to cram a ton of plot in its fleeting moments. It’s an unfortunate hiccup in what is an otherwise very solid and wholly unique film. This is a tough movie to really dig into without divulging its secrets, but I can say that it’s very much worth a look and no doubt one of this year’s most original films.