Title: I Am Not A Serial Killer
Rating: 3 Stars
I’d read the book several years ago. Browsing through Netflix a day or two ago, I saw that they’d made a movie about. It was released last summer. I was kind of shocked. Usually, when I read some odd book and then find out later that they’re making a movie of it, I make a point of at least determining if it’s worthwhile to check out or not.
How did this one escape my radar? I looked it up and it had a total budget of under two million dollars. Ah, OK. An independent. Maybe it didn’t even make anywhere close to Seattle.
It’s an interesting premise. The protagonist, a young boy (I think around 14 or 15) is exhibiting the signs of becoming a serial killer. He is a bed wetter, fantasizes constantly, is cruel to animals, etc. In fact, his name is John Wayne Cleaver, named after John Wayne Gacy. Good parents, there!
The boy recognizes that he has the signs but does not want to become a serial killer. He is trying to build himself up a process where he can avert his destiny.
And then things get even weirder. A series of brutal murders take place in the small town. In each case, the body is mutilated and an organ is taken.
Not surprisingly, Cleaver gets drawn into the action. He inadvertently discovers that the murderer is actually his next door neighbor (Crowley), an elderly man in apparently ill health.
As he delves deeper, he discovers that Crowley is actually an immortal demon in human shape. As parts of his body dies off, he has to kill someone and replace it (yeah, as a premise, doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense).
This sets up a cat and mouse game between Cleaver and Crowley as Crowley’s body continues to deteriorate and Cleaver attempts to stop him from killing others. As can be imagined, this leads to a final struggle between the two.
Let’s talk about the fundamental problem. Let’s call it the Dexter problem. It’s an interesting premise to make a serial killer a protagonist, but how do you keep the audience on the killer’s side?
I mean, at some point, no matter how good of a crime fighter Jeffrey Dahmer is, at some point you know that he’s going to have to eat someone’s head. That would seem to be a problem for a protagonist.
I totally get that the anti-hero archetype has risen in prominence over the last several decades. And I’m totally supportive of that. They’re way more interesting than the white-hatted aw-shucks cowboy. It’s just that, at some point, the writer always seems to feel the need to, at some point, step back, and say, hey, my guy’s not all that bad.
For an example of this, look at the Dexter books. In the first book, he’s all alone, not caring about anyone, only trying to live his life according to the injunctions from his step father cop, just living for the moment when he can find a guilty party just so he can horribly mutilate, torture, and slowly and sadistically murder him.
By the end of the third book or so, he’s got a wife and kids, probably a mortgage and is worried about who’s going to be on the Jimmy Fallon show tonight.
This movie has a similar problem. In the book, I remember Cleaver as actually being kind of spooky. Here, sure, Cleaver likes to draw macabre drawings and talk about serial killers, but he pretty much seems like a pretty normal angsty teenager. I felt that to really make the audience buy into him as a protagonist that the film makers really had to shave off some rough edges. He just really didn’t seem like all that much of an anti-hero.
The part that was surprisingly effective was Crowley’s motivation. Crowley is your basic timeless, ageless demon that can pretty effortlessly take over bodies. Some many years ago, he’d taken over the ‘real’ Crowley’s body. At some point thereafter, he’d met a woman named Kay. The two of them promptly fell in love and have been together ever since, with Kay (now Mrs Crowley) having no idea that her husband is a demon.
The demon can abandon Crowley’s body at any time and take up another. However, his love for her is so strong that he simply can’t leave her alone. Hence, as his body continues to deteriorate, he feels bound to continue to try keep the proverbial pieces together until Kay passes.
At the end of the movie, when the demon realizes that his Crowley persona is gone, even though with his power he can simply take on another, he willingly kills himself because he can’t contemplate his life without his beloved.
This in turn has an impact upon Cleaver. Cleaver, seeing this, understands that even if a demon can find true love and can reform, then even a socially maladjusted teenager with serial killer tendencies might have a chance as well.
At the end, you see him taking the first steps to try to integrate himself into his family.
I have no idea if this kind of metamorphosis is even close to psychologically feasible, but it makes for a beautiful image.