Movie Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer

It’s not every day I get to review a movie based on one of my friend’s books. That’s pretty exciting right there. Dan Wells’ I Am Not a Serial Killer is a really cool book, first and foremost. I read it back in the day and loved it then, and I remember him talking it up on our way to WorldCon in LA, back when I first met him. A kid who’s obsessed with serial killers and knows he has all the markings of becoming one himself, and wants to somehow avoid that? Awesome concept for a character, and really well executed in the book. Add to that a plot about an actual serial killer picking off people in a small town, and you have a recipe for success.

So the book is great. But how is the adaptation?

Uneven. (Sorry, Dan. Please don’t unleash your minions on me. I just call ’em like I see ’em.)

It’s tough, because there’s a lot I really like about the movie. First and foremost is the acting. Christopher Lloyd (Doc from Back to the Future) does a great job of playing the lead’s elderly next door neighbor, and the lead himself (Max Records, from Where the Wild Things Are) is my favorite part of the film. He really portrays John Cleaver so well, showing a boy on the brink between light and darkness. There’s a scene where John confronts his mom that’s really terrifying in a very real sense, and the success of it is squarely on Records. The acting is super.

The feel of the movie is also great. It felt like a nice throwback movie from the late 70s/early 80s. Trimmed down and bare bones, but in a good way. It didn’t shove it in your face ala Stranger Things, but it pervaded the whole production.

The conflicts and plot from the book carry over well, so that helps a lot too. The set up is the same, so all is ready for a great movie.

It’s the adaptation where things fall apart. Specifically, transitioning all elements of the plot successfully.

In the book, John has a love interest that presents problems for him. He’s attracted to a girl, but he’s trying not to stalk her, despite not really knowing how to approach her otherwise. That’s done well in the movie, but it feels tacked on. Ultimately, the plot development goes nowhere. It’s vestigial, with not enough given to it to have it make sense to people who aren’t familiar with the book.

A second, bigger example of this is the climax of the movie. Trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible, the way the villain is fought comes from out of the blue. There’s no discussion of the villain’s weaknesses or experimentation to find them. Dan didn’t do that in the book. He set things up wonderfully, so you know exactly what can and can’t be done to win.

Honestly, it felt to me like something had been filmed (in both cases: the villain and the love interest) and had been left on the editing floor. Maybe I’m wrong. For three quarters of the movie, everything’s awesome. It starts slowly, but builds really nicely. And then the resolution just feels rushed and haphazard. Disappointing.

Check the movie out if you’re interested in creepy independent horror, or if you want to see some cool acting performances. I gave it a 6/10, though this is with my new “Bryce is rating movies more harshly” mantra.

Anyone else out there already seen it? What did you think?

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