"Life is like a box of chocolates. All the crappy ones get left behind".
Dowdy Lou (Katie Brayben) lives a lonely life, a single woman living as unofficial carer to her overbearing mother Maureen (Sarah Ball) in a sleepy seaside town. Lou wiles away her hours listening to self-help gurus such as corny American star Chuck (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), aimlessly wishing to be just like these people. A cut-out collage kept at the head of her bed reveals that she dreams of escaping her four-wall existence and living a larger life.
The promise of doing just that arrives when Lou attends a travelling self-help guru's local seminar, and is struck by a rather unorthodox member of the audience: the glamorous, socially aggressive Val (Poppy Roe). Val is evicted from the building when she casually lights a cigarette; before she exits, she shoves her business card into the intrigued Lou's hand. It turns out Val is into helping people too.
Indeed, when Lou later tracks Val down to the static home she's living in nearby, Val informs her that she strives to be "the greatest life coach in the world". When she quizzes her guest with a likewise question, Lou's answer is an uncertain "I want to be just like you". Val sees potential right there, and promptly invites the impressionable Lou to accompany her on an impending road trip which will eventually culminate in meeting with the legendary Chuck.
Of course, Lou will have to seek permission from Maureen first. That doesn't go down well.
But, once destiny comes a-calling, you've finally got to do what've you've got to do: Lou gathers together what little belongings she has and jumps into Val's waiting car. Off onto the open road they race, Val declaring "let the voyage to self-discovery begin".
And so, their journey starts. First stop is a camp site where they fall in with a small group led by the pretentious Ben (Tomiwa Edun) who's invited his diminutive flock to get in touch with nature. Naive Lou smiles incessantly while Val is clearly more standoffish, assessing each member of this literally tree-hugging troupe with suspicion. Moreover, Val becomes visibly miffed when she realises this "nature therapy" group are warming to her new follower. Could it be that she feels threatened?
After an evening of naturally-sourced supper, campfire bonding and a spot of a capella singing in Welsh, they all retire to their tents for the night. The following morning, Val wakes Lou early and tells her it's time to move on. How is Lou to know that her newly-found pals have been left dead and bloodied outside their respective tents?
The trip continues. Val and Lou bond further, with Val's position as life coach beginning to become more assertive. Lou trusts in her completely, desperately identifying with her at every given juncture.
They arrive next at a guest house where hippy Marcus (Owain Rhys Davies) and his wife Rachel (Carys Lewis) indulge their guests in soppy "sound therapy" exercises, such as singing at high pitches while meditating. Following an excruciating evening in their company, Val decides they too have to die ... and learns via the local radio while completing said task that her car is connected in a case involving a string of murders. Naturally, this necessitates her taking Marcus's car for the remainder of her journey.
By now, Lou has become to privy to her mentor's curious sideline in killing. As their road trip recommences, what will she do? Attempt to jump ship, or become a willing accomplice to her new best friend Val?
A SERIAL KILLER'S GUIDE TO LIFE is the directorial feature debut from Portsmouth-born Staten Cousins Roe, who's also enjoyed a limited career as a part-actor on TV and director of one previous short, THIS WAY OUT.
It's a handsomely shot, well-edited and extremely confident affair. A black comedy of very British social mores which takes a much-needed wry look at today's rather tasteless trend of chancers exploiting vulnerable people with these "self-help" links that will almost always embezzle the weak in ways only the church have previously done.
Some critics have passed it off as a SIGHTSEERS clone and that could be dismissed as lazy journalism. On the other hand, the cap fits to an extent. There are a lot of similarities - Lou's initial circumstances, her susceptible nature as a result, Val's choices of victim, the balance of black comedy and horror in a very British environment.
In SIGHTSEERS, the audience is invited to share in the annoyances that irk our terribly polite nation on a daily basis. Here, Cousins Roe doesn't necessarily paint the quarries as bad or obnoxious individuals, but the collective nod of the head between audience and filmmaker lies in the knowledge that we all think these self-help parasites who are in it for the money fucking suck.
So, this is an engaging film, anchored by a warm performance from the likeable Brayben. Supporting performances are perfectly credible across the board; art direction, cinematography and pacing are all on point; the plot is wafer-thin and somewhat predictable, but keeps its head above water by virtue of the main players keeping us involved.
As a horror film, it's a very lukewarm offering. In fact, selling it as a horror (as it has been) is really a case of misinformation. It's a drama/black comedy. The humour is ... some of it's quite sophisticated, but it's rarely genuinely funny. It is, however, always amiable, so we get along with it anyway.
The film kept me engaged and the final ten minutes went to places I didn't expect. It's a love story of sorts, but one borne of desperately wanting to fit in and identify with someone else above all.
Arrow Films have brought A SERIAL KILLER'S GUIDE TO LIFE to the public via the digital platform, premiering it for rental on such services as Amazon Prime and Apple TV. SGM were sent the film to review via an online screener.
The film clocks in at an agreeably brisk 80 minutes and 31 seconds in its uncut length. It's presented in its original widescreen ratio and retains an attractively clean, sharp sheen with true colours and stable blacks. The English 2.0 audio is clear and even, while we also get the option of easily-readable English subtitles.
Check it out.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Films|