Serial Killer’s Guide To Life: Review. If ever there was a genre that sums up the existential unease of 2019 then surely it is ‘Self-help Horror” right? Staten Cousins-Roe’s debut feature A SERIAL KILLER’S GUIDE TO LIFE fits that bill to a tee and whilst you will certainly see similarities to films we have seen before, it has a sense of humour all of its own that make it well worth a watch.
The premise is enough to raise a smile all on its own, as Lou (Katie Brayben), a thirty-something self-help addict, wants nothing more than to escape her overly controlling mother and the dead-end seaside town where she grew up. When strange and strikingly confident new life coach Val (Poppy Roe) invites her on a road trip of alternative therapies, culminating with a visit to American self-help idol Chuck Knoah’s (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) British country home, Lou finds the perfect opportunity to leave – and the perfect person to become. Unfortunately for Lou though, Val is a serial killer.
The first thing that struck me about this jet-black comedy-horror was the heightened performances. There’s something comforting about settling into a film where the characters aren’t meant to be hyper-real but instead a recognisably caricatured set of attributes. Lou’s anxieties and insecurities are instantly relatable thanks to being magnified, as our her Mother’s overbearing and verbally abusive actions and Chuck Knoah’s smarmy con artist ways. It signposts perfectly how we are in for a dark but comedic ride. For me, once Poppy Roe’s Val entered the picture, things really started to pop!
I have not seen Poppy Roe in anything before but she really impresses her as the deadpan and dangerous catalyst for all that follows. She really gets why this character is so fun and she nails the delivery perfectly. I remember seeing Katie Brayben in a couple of episodes of BBC’s LUTHER a few years ago but apart from that she is new to me and that helped seeing the character arc that timid Lou goes through on this road trip. I won’t spoil anything here but it is satisfying to say the least.
I think the only real issue I had with this film was how close it all felt to Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS. Ordinarily noticing similarities between two features isn’t really much of a problem however I remember seeing SIGHTSEERS when it came out and finding it absolutely hilarious and genuinely shocking as these two characters got deeper and deeper into this accidentally murderous adventure that was all their own doing. This film here treads very similar ground only the comedy isn’t quite as dark, the tone isn’t quite as subversive and the horror isn’t quite as horrific. It’s almost feels like a more watered down version of that story which, in all fairness, could mean it works much better for a broader audience but for me I was hoping for a bit more bite.
The setup is simple but effective, the characters are fun and relatable, the victims are well chosen and sufficiently annoying, and the conclusion is satisfying thanks to two really great central performances from Brayben and Roe, I just wanted a bit more blood and guts when push came to shove.
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