★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
This dark comic take skewers (pun intended) self-help gurus and followers alike as a murderer and her unassuming travelmate go on a journey around the south coast of England to improve their lives.
Directed by Staten Cousins-Roe
Self-help fads meet nihilism, milquetoast meets murderer, and Thelma and Louise meets Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers in the British horror comedy A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life. This wry outing is a fascinating watch driven by the performances of its two leads, Katie Brayben as self-help junkie Lou Farnt and Poppy Roe as life coach and serial killer Val Stone.
Lou lives with her manipulative mother Maureen (Sarah Ball) but longs to get out from under Maureen’s clutches and find herself. When she meets Val at a questionable self-help meeting, she is taken by Val’s strong personality and how the woman — who says that her goal is to be the best life coach in the world — stands up for herself. Val invites Lou to go on a journey of self discovery that will end up at the residence of self-help guru Chuck Knoah (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), and despite Maureen’s protests, Lou takes Val up on her offer.
Following along blindly wherever Val leads, Lou cheerfully goes along with whatever methods various self-help coaches pitch, such as tree-hugging and foraging for food at a nature retreat. She never questions that when the pair leaves each group in the morning, no one is there to bid them goodbye until she makes a shocking discovery the morning after being drugged and taken advantage of by a couple who claim to use sound therapy to improve themselves and others.
The humor in A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is dry and dark, and although humor is subjective, potential viewers shouldn’t expect belly laughs or broad comedy. Rather, the humor is often of the uneasy, uncomfortable kind. The murders happen frequently but the focus is on elements other than bloodshed and gore, of which there is little.
Brayben and Roe are both terrific in their roles, with Brayben nailing her doormat of a character in the most interesting ways, and Roe keeping her psychopathic life coach steadfastly icy throughout. Writer/director Staten Cousins-Roe previously worked with both of these actors in his 2013 short film This Way Out, and I’m guessing that he had them in mind when writing the screenplay for A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life. He has crafted a film with Nietzschean elements and acerbic wit. Fans of offbeat, independent fright-fare cinema should find plenty to enjoy — or at least ponder on, if not both — with this contemplative horror comedy.
Arrow Films will release A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life on iTunes and Digital HD in the United States and Canada on January 13th.
Review by Joseph Perry
[Note: Some of the links in this review contain affiliate info so clicking on them might result in a wee bit of cashola in the ol’ Scariest Things coffers. It’s not costing you anything extra. We’re just skimming a bit off the top from the corporate fat cats and putting it towards more Scariest Things goodness.]