I've seen this film described many times as "like 'Thelma & Louise', only with much more blood". Well, you had me at "'Thelma & Louise' with much more blood". Boy, did I enjoy this one! It has all the ingredients you could want from a comedy-horror cult classic: the English countryside, deranged and quirky characters, a road trip, and questionable actions.
Lou (Theatre actress and Olivier award-winner Katie Brayben) is a sad, hopeless and directionless woman who lives with her mother in a sweet country town in East Sussex. She is obsessed with the self-help movement, but still can't seem to put all that information to good use, as she is stuck in her mundane life with no way out. Her friends are all success stories, and she is constantly reminded by her mother that she's no good. All hope seems lost, until a chance encounter with Val (Poppy Roe, 'The Big Finish'), who takes her under her wing and invites her on a road-trip of self-discovery. Val has the ambition to be the greatest life coach in the world, and for all intents and purposes, she may have found her greatest challenge yet.
Oh, and I may have forgotten to mention - Val is a stone-cold killer who violently disposes of her prey.
Of course, Lou doesn't know this because this sweet, naïve, innocent girl can't help but be so excited by her new life coach, so it all completely passes her by. Thus begins their violent trip of self-discovery, with different methods of self-help acting as checkpoints along the way. Each method reveals new characters, each one quirkier than the last. From nature therapy to sounds therapy, yoga and a "re-birthing class", who knew that wanting to find oneself could be such a bloody experience?
'A Serial Killer's Guide to Life' is Staten Cousins Roe's feature-length debut, and is loosely inspired by his 2013 short, 'This Way Out'. 'This Way Out' is a black comedy about trying to save a struggling euthanasia centre, so that tells you everything you need to know about the same creative team behind this follow-up. 'A Serial Killer's Guide to Life' is dark, gory, and really very funny. A lot of this film felt like a home-made movie in all the right kinds of way, as there is a clear vision and consistent rhythm in how everything unfolds. They filmed in 30 locations across two weeks, and you can feel that energy translate onto the screen.
The filming locations really play an important role in the dichotomy of the context. The lush green countryside is a wonderful cleansing contrast to the violent acts on screen, and the character's behaviours amongst the therapeutic environments are ironic at best, horrific at worst. This allows for seamless tonal shifts, which can often prove tricky for these indie horror-comedies. Crucially to the success of this picture, the chemistry between Lou and Val is fantastic; the fact that they attended drama school together is clear to see. Brayben brings a wonderful, childlike innocence to the role, whilst Roe does well to maintain her heartless yet stylish attitude. There are intermittent tender moments, where for just a second, you believe that these women could get better, surrendering to the various therapies along their journey.
The lush green countryside is a wonderful cleansing contrast to the violent acts on screen, and the character's behaviours amongst the therapeutic environments are ironic at best, horrific at worst.
All the different therapy practises structure the narrative well, and Cousins Roe uses this to his advantage when playing with the audience. We know from very early on that Val is a killer, and nobody else around her does, so each scene increases in tension as the victims and audiences alike fall into a false sense of security.
The film finds a way to grab your attention with its disturbing disposition, but once you have it, you're more of an onlooker than ever really feeling involved. There are some decent twists in the final act of the film, although I must admit a lot of it was predictable from fairly early on. That's not to say they aren't clever twists, to Cousins Roe's credit, and the clues placed throughout the film are not difficult to find. So, in a sense, the twists don't come from nowhere, which is refreshing (looking at you, 'Star Wars'!), but they also don't have the same impact in shock value that you can get elsewhere.
And yet there's just so much about this production I enjoyed. Contrary to its small budget, the gore and violence are at the forefront, and the quirky characters we meet along the way are fun, albeit a little depressing. 'A Serial Killer's Guide to Life' satirises the ever-growing popularity and cult mentality to these self-help movements, and it raises an interesting question - what are we really like when we unleash the inner parts of ourselves? Maybe we might not always like the monsters trapped within, but if this film is anything to go by, we'll certainly enjoy the journey.