There are so many things I love about the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF). The venue. The people. The films. The shorts. The atmosphere. So many things combine to make the TADFF my favorite film festival of the year.
And one of the more surprising things that occur each year is that my favorite film of the festival will come unexpectedly from left field. This year’s crop of screenings held many titles to which I was already aware of their existence. Under the Shadow, Antibirth, Train to Busan, Stake Land 2 and Creepy. These were all titles that I was fully conscious of their information including story, director and cast. But there were a few that I had yet to hear anything about, The Void, Master Cleanse, Kill Command and I am not a Serial Killer. It is with these titles that my hopes rested on finding that unexpected gem that I found in previous TADFF entries in Predestination, Eega and Trick ‘R Treat.
By Monday night, I had found it. I am not a Serial Killer is not a film that I would expect many to know much about. The film is based on a 2009 novel by Dan Wells that was part of a trilogy of books in what is considered the John Wayne Cleaver series and includes I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster and The Devil’s Only Friend.
In the film adaptation we get introduced to John Wayne Cleaver played by Max Records from Where the Wild Things Are. John is a high schooler that believes he has serial killer tendencies. Or so he tells his therapist (Karl Geary). John works in a morgue run by his family which gives John access to dead bodies that begin to show up with regularity when a serial killer begins to add to their resume in a small rural town. John is fascinated by the killings and how in each instance a different part of the victim’s body has been removed. John is eager to use the killings to harvest his fascination with serial killers and this path will lead him down a plot highway that has plenty of surprises leading to a very unexpected climax.
Director Billy O’Brien worked tirelessly to get the rights to bring the Dan Wells’ story to the big screen and he does not waste the energy exerted in pre-production. The film has just the right amount of everything and reveals in its own time a plot that is as smart as it is simple.
Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd gets top billing and is a welcomed familiar face in sea of newbies and the 79-year-old actor shines as the neighbor next door that catches the eye of young Cleaver.
But the movie hinges on the wonderful performance from Max Records. Hardly recognizable from his role in Where the Wild Things Are, Max is perfectly cast in the lead and has a mix of Johnny Depp and Lukas Haas in him which works flawlessly in the role of the conflicted teenager at odds with his family, friends and, at times, himself.
To enjoy I Am Not a Serial Killer is to go in knowing as little as possible about the plot. Letting it go in directions unseen due to no preconceived notions aides in the overall enjoyment of the reveals. So do yourself a favor and just dive into the deep end and enjoy the water.
I Am Not a Serial Killer is another feather in the cap of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. It is not only one of the better films of this year’s fest but it is one of the ten best films the festival has ever screened.