Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Vamp or Not? I Am Not a Serial Killer

This was a film that had been on my radar and then I lost sight of, that is until Simon Bacon contacted me and asked if I had seen it. He suggested that there might be a vampiric element to this.

Directed by Billy O'Brien, and released in 2016, the film is an Irish/US production, set in the US and clearly on a budget. It is based on a young adult novel by Dan Wells (which I haven’t read) and does some really interesting things during its running length.

John on his bike

Things start on a street; in the distance we can see an ambulance and a cop who walks towards his car (and therefore towards the camera). Once in we hear him say that he has never seen anything like it. In the distance we see a body, covered and on a gurney, being taken to the ambulance. Guts fall off the gurney and onto the floor. The crowd disperses and we see a young lad, John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records), approach the taped off alley on his bike. A passing cop asks for his prognosis and he replies that the victim is dead for sure.

helping in the Mortuary

He rides his bike back to the funeral parlour his family runs and helps his mother (Laura Fraser) and Aunty (Christina Baldwin) prepare a body. When asked if he has made friends in a new school year his response is sarcastic. So let’s look at John a second. Obsessed with serial killers, he is under the care of a therapist (Karl Geary, Nadja) who takes him bird spotting (and tells John’s mother way too much I felt – though I admit I don’t know what the rules would be for confidentiality around a minor).


John recognises that he fits the McDonald Triad – the triad of sociopathy that, should there be two or more traits present, is said to be a predictor of later violent tendencies. John knows he is a sociopath, knows he could develop into a serial killer and has a set of rules to try and avoid the tendencies. For instance, if someone says something that makes him want to hurt them (something that happens as he is bullied) his rule is to smile and say something nice – actor Max Record doing a fine line in fake smiles with a dangerous edge. He also misses emotional clues – such as the interest fellow pupil Brooke (Lucy Lawton) offers him.


So, John shows an interest in the grisly murder – finding a strange oil at the scene and discovering that a kidney was missing. As more murders are committed, with the same oil and other missing organs, John soon discovers the killer’s identity – this is not so much a spoiler as it occurs fairly early into the film. Suspecting the wrong guy, he follows as his suspect goes ice fishing with kindly neighbour Mr Crowley (Christopher Lloyd, The Haunting Hour: Grampires & House of Monsters). What he witnesses causes him to wet himself – Crowley's arm converts into something branch like, he kills the man, rips the victim’s lungs out and then his own and replaces them. His discarded organs dissolve into the black oil.

full form

The film then has John trying to prevent Crowley from murdering others – though given his sociopathic nature one might wonder why – whilst trying to keep his own rules in check. So, what is Crowley. I suspect some kind of fae (Wikipedia suggests that the novel calls him a demon). As Crowley’s limbs/organs fail he is stealing new ones – having stayed in one place due to love. At the end we see him vacate the Crowley body (which the film implies he stole in one whole go) but as he needs to replace failing parts one might suggest that the creature form needs the outer human body (and its organs) working to survive.

John and his mom

The stealing of parts to maintain life could be argued to have a vampiric aspect. He isn’t consuming them, of course, literally stealing them instead. Presumably, if he took a whole body – as we can assume he did with his current form, originally – that he can literally become younger (on the outside). It was also telling, at the end (and this is a spoiler), that his chest is stabbed (by a mortician’s suction tube) and this is almost analogous to staking. His ichor like blood is then drained out of him and his fae body (and the Crowley outer body) rapidly decay into the oil-like substance.

Max Record as John

So, 'vamp?' – it depends, I guess, on how liberal you want to be with the description but what is certain that the film (knowingly or otherwise) played with certain genre tropes. The other thing to mention was that I found this really entertaining. Lloyd is as great as always but it was Max Record who really shone – making us care for a kid who absolutely lacked empathy and was haunted by his own demons, including an absentee father and family strife (his mother and sister (Anna Sundberg) at loggerheads) beyond his fear of himself. It was low budget but it played with character rather than gore/sfx.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

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