By Naseem Ally. ‘A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life’ is the 2020 film written and directed by Staten Cousins Roe, that centres around ‘Lou’, a self-help addict who later finds herself caught up in a killing spree with her new ‘off the wall’ life coach, Val. The film opens with a tape recording from a self-proclaimed guru ‘Chuck Noah’ who gives a self-help schpiel to his listeners; ‘you wanna be like me, you gotta think like me’.
It cuts to the title card and then proceeds to the main protagonist of the film, Lou, walking down a hill towards the beach where she’s wearing her headphones listening to Chuck Noah’s self-help audio recording.
As she’s contemplating her life and looking out on to the coast, taking in the message of ‘visualise the future you want’, this dreamy atmosphere quickly comes to a halt. She bumps into someone passing by, who bluntly tells her ‘watch where you’re fu**ing going!’ – ‘sorry’ is the only thing Lou can mutter, and she is abruptly brought back to reality. One thing I can praise about this film is that it sets up the world for the audience straight away and you get hooked into the main character’s dilemma, and you immediately feel invested.
Firstly, the theme is very relatable to most audiences as I’m sure at one point or another in your life, consciously or subconsciously you have made attempts to ‘improve’ your life, be it watching ‘motivational’ YouTube videos or signing up to the gym, only to end up arguing with them over the phone wanting to cancel your direct debit after a couple of months.
You know it’s true – new year resolutions anyone?
Lou is somewhat down on her luck. She’s a small-town lass living at home with her mother, working at an ice cream parlour and doesn’t seem to be doing anything groundbreaking with her life anytime soon. However, we can clearly see she wants a lot more out of life.
Katie Brayben does a brilliant job of playing Lou. Lou is a socially awkward outcast, that is essentially trying to find her feet in the world, but her mother doesn’t seem to have the patience.
From not receiving any letters in the post, and with no career prospects on the horizon, she definitely feels a sense of pressure to deliver the goods so to speak. Lou’s mother Maureen, played by Sarah Ball, compares Lou to her friend Betty, who is now a high flying lawyer.
With Lou not being able to divert from the topic discussed at the dinner table, there is a looming feeling of tension. This is even more evident, with Maureen visibly angry as she sticks her fork into her food.
Thankfully, we are removed from that very tense scenario and we see Lou making her first attempts at ‘improving’ her life. She attends a self-help seminar and there she meets Val, a shadowy figure standing at the back of the hall, who advises Lou to think twice about following down their pathway. Val pitched in with some hit and miss one-liners, but her character added some quirkiness to the film which I liked. The best way I could describe the character of Val is a sadistic ‘Morpheous’ from The Matrix.
A great job was done on the casting, as the majority of the actors fitted within their roles. There was a solid dynamic between Lou and Val. In terms of the cinematography, it’s simple, but it works. There are some superb shots of the English countryside as Lou and Val go on their ‘self-discovery’ journey, as well as the opening shots of Lou walking down the beach.
The locations used in the film made for beautiful backdrops, and I think the timing of shooting the film worked in their favour. It seems to have been filmed around Spring or early Summer and if it was the case, it’s paid off.
I loved the contrast of colours used in between Lou and Val’s individual scenes. Lou’s had more of a light-hearted, playful feel whilst Val’s was a lot more dark and gritty, perhaps as a reflection to the audience as to what’s in store for the both of them. In the first half of ‘A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life’, there is a very laid back ambience and as mentioned before, it helps to really put the audience into Lou’s world. The sound department for this film has done a solid job.
During Lou’s strolls on the beach, there are some subtle harmonic, even angelic sounds, and from listening intently it appears to be the strums from a harp. It’s simple but works effectively well for these scenes.
In general, I thought the pacing of the film was okay. There were a few filler scenes that left me scratching my head, as it didn’t help in moving the story forward at all. It seemed like they were trying to fit in as many witty one-liners as possible, just for the sake of doing so. The first eight to fifteen minutes are the strongest parts of the film, without a shadow of a doubt. There’s no fuss, it goes straight into the story and the characters, and you’re immersed in their world.
Having a compelling and relatable story also helps, but this journey of self-discovery that Lou and Val take completely throws this film off the rails.
It’s a shame because, honestly, the story was going so well only for it to then turn out like a ‘spin-off’ of ‘The Inbetweeners Movie’. Only this time, without Simon’s yellow Fiat. I felt this film greatly underused Lou’s mother Maureen. To be honest, I would have loved to see how Lou’s interaction with her would have changed over the course of her wanting to improve herself, and to me at least, this film didn’t attempt to do that.
It turned out to be a ‘horror-stoner’, ‘buddy-trip’ movie…or something along those lines. I can see the approach the team behind the film were going for, but it just doesn’t work in this case. Again, considering the first fifteen minutes of this film where it was right on the money, for it to then swerve into so many different directions, takes away from what otherwise would have been a superb film.
I would be interested to know if there was perhaps another writer brought in as a replacement or as a co-writer, which could possibly explain this ‘horrific’ turn of events. As I mentioned before, it would’ve been great to see more of Maureen, played by Sarah Ball, who did a fantastic job playing Lou’s mother. There’s one scene, in particular, to look out for, involving Maureen and Lou that is the centrepiece for this film.
For a comedic film, that scene really brings any laughs to an immediate stop. Watching that scene with Maureen, took me back to the time I first saw Fences, with that powerful scene from Viola Davis. Sarah Ball was the standout performer in this film and it’s a shame to not see her get as much screen time in this film, as her fellow castmates.
There was a good amount of one-liners sprinkled throughout this film, but some of them felt a little ‘corny’. But, there was one that stood out in regards to the mispronunciation of a certain country starting with the letter S. For me, there was too much inconsistency with this film, not so much with the comedic side, although that is one aspect, but with the story as a whole. In recent times, I haven’t seen any British ‘comedic’ films that have hit the mark.
Even with shows that later turn into movies like ‘The Inbetweeners Movie’ and ‘David Brent: Life On The Road’, it just turns to be really…flat. I know that ‘A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life’ is an original film, but it appears like they’ve followed the same route. ‘People Just Do Nothing’ is having it’s very own film, set in Japan nonetheless, but I’m not even sure if that will be worth the wait.
The last great British comedic film I’ve watched has got to be Four Lions. It’s got a structure that works and that film has stood the test of time. Four Lions wasn’t just filled with ‘laugh out loud’ moments, but, there was actually a story behind it. I think that’s what’s being lost nowadays, not just in British comedic films, but in films as a whole. Is it due to us having shorter attention spans because of technology overload? – maybe so.
Four Lions was made in 2010. It’s 2019 going on to 2020, where technology is continuing to grow at a rapid pace. Is this perhaps a reflection of the current state of cinema where films are just pumped out, to eventually end up on streaming platforms? ‘A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life’ veers off from what was initially a very good story, which makes it even more frustrating because I want to like this film.
No, scratch that – I like this film, but I want to LOVE this film.
In an alternate universe, if this film was rebooted I’d be up for putting myself forward for writing the film, and building on the great story it already had from the first fifteen minutes. Overall, this film shines a light on a topic that will be ever more prevalent with the new year of 2020 around the corner, where everyone and their dog will be looking to improve themselves.
It reminds me of the time I went to the infamous ‘Landmark‘ forum over the summer to have a ‘breakthrough’. Thinking back on it now, it was absolutely boll*cks. If only I had seen this first, I would’ve saved myself so much time. I think we could all do with Val giving us a reality check on ‘self-help’.
‘A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life’ is released on 13th January and can be pre-ordered now on iTunes https://apple.co/2RGlh4g
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