Society’s fascination with serial killers is pervasive. They are the one thing we all wish we could understand, the ultimate question with no easy answer. Attempts to figure them out are everywhere. Why do they do it? What makes them tick? What flips the switch? Everywhere you turn there’s a documentary somewhere on all the most (in)famous. We know their names. We know what they did and how...
...But we almost never really know why. It isn’t often a film comes along to ask those questions in fresh ways, and even less frequently is it successfully done with a light touch and a twist of dark humor. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it completely pulled off. A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life, the debut feature film written and directed by Staten Cousins Roe, is just such a success.
At once completely ridiculous and earnestly sincere, it tells the story of a young woman, Lou Farnt (Katie Brayden), stuck in a routine of caring for a mother whose only words are criticism while desperately trying to find herself through the lens of as many self-help opportunities as she can get her hands on. While at a seminar led by her self-help idol Chuck Knoah (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) she spies and later meets a woman, Val Stone (Poppy Roe), who is everything she wants to be: bold, brash, totally confident. This woman, so assertive she makes Lou the slightest bit uncomfortable, leaves her card and invites Lou to chat sometime. Val, it turns out, is a serial killer/life coach who wants to be the best in the world—and she’s looking for a protégé. Seeing her chance to escape, Lou agrees to a journey of self-discovery with Val at the helm.
I wasn’t altogether sure exactly what to expect from a movie about a serial killer life coach. I knew it could be great fun, and that—to my knowledge anyway—nothing quite like it had ever been done before. What I got was a hilariously fun, sharp, strangely heartfelt take on what it means to discover yourself and see the world for the first time in a way you’d never thought to look at it before. Lou is awkward and desperate to please those around her, but she has no idea how to get to the person she wants to be. Unsure of her own depth and with a view of the world that barely expands beyond her hometown, she has trouble seeing anyone below the surface. She believes everyone is good and well-meaning, as we all should, but cannot see with a deeper view what anyone is really like. In fact, she’s so obtuse and trusting she opens the trunk of Val’s car to toss her bag in and doesn’t even notice the body they’ve been riding with since they set out. When Val disposes of her victim simply by tossing him out, Lou has no idea. Val, on the other hand, sees into the depths of people. She finds Chuck insufferable and annoying, and finds in Lou a woman who doesn’t know how to look out for herself. She finds every other life coach they encounter on their journey to be a phony, or at the very least shallow in the extreme. No one is as ordinary as Lou would believe them to be.
There is a lot to love about this movie. Dry, sharp humor, cinematography that is at once shocking and vibrantly beautiful, and a chemistry between Lou and Val that makes the 81minute run time clip by at such a pace I almost wasn’t ready for it to end. A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it does offer a cutting criticism of the self-help industry through an unexpected lens. It reminds us, gently and with force, not to forget to see what’s right in front of us, and what power there is in making our own choices. Wicked, funny, and weirdly heartfelt, A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is unmissable.
A Serial Killer's Guide to Life slashes onto iTunes and digital HD through Arrow Films in the US and Canada on January 13, 2020.
By Katelyn Nelson
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