SXSW Review: I Am Not A Serial Killer

I Am Not a Serial Killer had it’s world premiere Sunday night at SXSW. Sixteen-year old John Cleaver (Max Records) is dangerous, and he knows it. He’s obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn’t want to become one. Terrible impulses constantly tempt him, so for his own sake, and the safety of those around, he lives by rigid rules to keep himself “good” and “normal”. However, when a real monster shows up in his town he has to let his dark side out in order to stop it – but without his rules to keep him in check, he might be more dangerous than the monster he’s trying to kill. The film is based on the first installment in the John Wayne Cleaver trilogy, a popular book series written by Dan Wells.

Director Billy O’Brien stepped out to inform us that the film had been finished eight days ago and that no one in the film had seen it yet which is why as Billy O’Brien put it, that Christopher Lloyd (sitting in the theater) “Was feeling a bit sweaty.” The film is shot in North Dakota during winter. The airy monochromatic nature of the scenes mixed with it being shot on actual film made this movie beautiful. I instantly got a European vibe watching it and at times it aesthetically made me think of Thomas Alfredson’s, Let the Right One In. There are nods to classic horror films such as Dracula in the style it was shot. There is also plenty of mystery in the beginning until you find out who the killer is, at which point the story takes a sharp left turn as we watch the main characters play games against one another.

Max Records does a fantastic job as John Cleaver. He has all the qualities of a serial killer yet you love his character and you feel for him. He is snarky and rude at times but also has a giving side. He is a walking contradiction that I am not sure he even realizes. And what is there left to say about the great Christopher Lloyd. He is a legend and he doesn’t disappoint in this film. He plays the sweet old man that John helps out on occasion. He is seemingly fragile but also a complicated. At times he is your sweet grandpa and at times he is terrifying. These two together are incredible no matter how tumultuous it seems on camera.


At the Q&A afterwards it was great to hear Billy O’Brien, Christopher Lloyd, Max Records and Dan Wells talk about the process of making I Am Not a Serial Killer. O’Brien said they got the script for the film in 2009 and casted Max Records for the role when he was 11. They didn’t start shooting until 6 years later. They knew the whole time that they wanted Records to play John Cleaver. Christopher Lloyd said he didn’t come one until later and sarcastically added that he loved having to be down on his hands and knees a lot shooting in the snow in 20 below weather. Dan Wells said he learned a lot through this process and was thrilled that his book was turned into a film. He thought that it turned out perfect in his mind. He said that the most important thing that he learned was that he wasn’t going to set anymore of his books in freezing cold temperatures. He said his next book was set in the summer in the middle of Texas. So fans we all have something to look forward to!

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