Teenager John Wayne Cleaver (Records) is obsessed with serial killers to such an extent that his psychiatrist (Geary) calls him a sociopath, talking him down from those moments where Cleaver admits he feels like harming someone. But there's someone else harming someone in his small Midwestern town: there's a serial killer removing the victims' organs, and all the bodies come to the Cleaver funeral home for mum (Fraser) to tend to. The sight of the disfigured bodies on the slab downstairs further spikes his preoccupation with death and killing and drives Cleaver to track down and contact his kindred spirit…
A genre-bender, mixing teen drama, a thriller, comedy, a detective movie, and science-fiction, Irish director Billy O’Brien's (Isolation) I Am Not A Serial Killer manages to keep all these plates spinning. Records, best known for playing the kid in Where The Wild Things Are) is in fine fettle: looking a little like Lou Taylor Pucci in Thumbsucker, the teen movie element draws a little from River's Edge. The town of Clayton here is reminiscent of that cold, Midwestern setting in Tim Hunter's film and Cleaver's withdrawn youth could easily be a mate with Keanu Reeves and Crispin Glover's existential teens; he's seemingly unfeeling to the death around him – when his doctor diagnoses him as a sociopath, his response is "Cool!" - but in a move that gently nudges it away from Hunter's 1986 drama Cleaver is not entirely oblivious to the charms of school hottie (Lucy Lawton).
It's fun too with the on-the-nose references like John Wayne (Gacy) and Cleaver and the funeral home a wink and a nod from O’Brien, co-writing a script culled from Dan Wells' novel. The Irish director is more into mood and atmosphere than boo moments and surprises – there are some of those too – using sound to great effect (the heavy breathing, the squeak of the stair-master). The town, with his dark streets and boarded up shops, helps infuse the proceedings with eeriness.
Okay, so it can lean too heavily on its influences – River's Edge meets Dexter meets Apt Pupil – but there's enough originality here to keep it ticking over and the twist, when it comes, could have been laughable but O'Brien keeps it together, turning a shlocky ending into a sad one.