A Serial Killer's Guide To Life

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A Serial Killer's Guide To Life
"There's a good supply of bloody violence which will entertain horror fans and any number of people who have limited patience for those selling dubious remedies or telling them to smile more." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

Do you want to change your life? Do you understand - really understand - that deep inside you have the power to become anything you want? Would you pay good money to listen to this kind of bullshit? Perhaps not, but a lot of people would, and Lou (Katie Brayben) is among them. It's understandable that she would be dissatisfied with her life. She's a full time carer for her mother (Sarah Ball), who demands a lot more than she really seems to need and delights in tormenting her. Other inhabitants of her dead end seaside town ignore her or treat her as a bit of a joke. What she really needs is for someone to take an interest in her and help her out of this rut, but how can she find that when she's acutely aware that she's just not a very interesting person?

Everything changes for Lou when she meets Val (Poppy Roe), a successful self-help guru who dreams of becoming the greatest of them all. Val, with her severe haircut, bright red lipstick and obvious pleasure in making other people feel uncomfortable, might as well be from another planet. Lou is instantly awestruck, something that puts her in more danger than she could have imagined, but then Val sees something in her that changes her approach - a certain potential, perhaps. Before you know it, the two are heading out on a road trip together. As Lou understands it, Val is now er life coach and they're going to try out different approaches to self help. What Val is actually doing is a little more direct: she's getting to the top by killing off the competition.

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There are obvious parallels with Ben Wheatley's Sightseers in this tale of escaping small town life through serial killing. The plotting isn't as tight nor the humour as sharp but the central dynamic is interesting and Staten Cousins Roe has some pointed observations to make about the exploitation of vulnerable people (and Val's loathing for people who allow themselves to be exploited). One scene in which the pair find themselves drugged before their therapy takes a sexual turn is particularly disturbing, perhaps all the more so because it retains that veneer of fluffy amiability on which the self-help movement thrives. Nobody ever acknowledges doing anybody else harm, even to themselves. Val's more obviously predatory nature is only an exaggerated form of what we see elsewhere.

Despite this, there's a good supply of bloody violence which will entertain horror fans and any number of people who have limited patience for those selling dubious remedies or telling them to smile more. The mundane settings highlight the absurdity of both the gurus and the gore.

The thing about setting a story of this kind in England is that it's impossible to seriously entertain the belief that anyone could get away with it, especially when the killings as as prolific as we see here. This means that it's clear early on that the women's spree will be a short one, leaving only their relationship and Lou's character arc as sources of uncertainty. Fun though Val is, she's not a very complex character, leaving limited room for manoeuvre. Towards the end the film begins to flounder and it never quite delivers the knockout blow that viewers might be hoping for.

Screening at 2019's Frightfest, this is a much better way to spend your time than watching self help videos. it may not solve all of your problems but it will certainly succeed in showing you that your life could be worse.

Reviewed on: 26 Aug 2019
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A Serial Killer's Guide To Life packshot
A frustrated thirtysomething woman stuck in a small seaside town meets a charismatic life coach who promises to transform her world with alternative therapy - and who is also a serial killer.

Director: Staten Cousins-Roe

Starring: Katie Brayben, Poppy Roe, Sinead Matthews, Ben Lloyd-Hughes

Year: 2019

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: UK


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