A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life, from director Staten Cousins Roe, follows Lou Farnt (Katie Brayben), a hapless young woman floating from one self-help guru to another, looking for something to give her life purpose. She lives under the constant scrutiny of her manipulative mother, Maureen (Sarah Ball), who keeps her locked into a cycle of failure and regret as she criticizes her lack of ambition while reacting hysterically to any attempts she makes to improve her living conditions. A chance encounter at a dimly-lit seminar led by a nameless charlatan brings her under the spell of Val Stone (Poppy Roe), a self-professed guru with a brazen sense of superiority and misanthropy. Preying upon Lou’s suggestibility, Val proposes a road trip that will take them through a gauntlet of new-age retreats, culminating in a personal meeting with self-help superstar, Chuck Knoah (Ben Lloyd-Hughes). Val leaves more than good vibes in her wake, however, as she drags Lou across the country without so much as a goodbye to the friends she’s made along the way.
The setup is there for a satirical dark comedy and it nails the look and feel of what it aspires to be but much like it’s sociopathic protagonist, there isn’t much going on beneath its modern, refined veneer. A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is a master class in taking the most obvious route in the most effective way possible and while that works for certain genres like slashers were the audience is satisfied with atmosphere and creative kills, it doesn’t work as well for a film so dependent on its cleverness. Brayben and Roe both play their characters convincingly but very straight and the script doesn’t give them a lot of opportunities to break from their archetypes. Val is a textbook sociopath with a scant philosophy that seems to revolve around her willingness to do whatever she pleases making her superior to everyone else bound by society’s rules. This is a fine place to start for this sort of character but they never expand that beyond our base expectations. Lou is played with a wonderful sense of warmth and kindness but again, there isn’t much else there. She starts the film as a puppy given human form, with a broad smile and complete obedience to whoever barked the last command and that’s about where we leave her. This leads to her transformation as she starts to become more deeply involved with Val’s plans feeling inauthentic, as it’s just another form she’s taken to appease one of many gurus she’s followed throughout the years.
A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life finds more success with its side characters, a revolving door of strange and quirky characters that serve to give the film a chance at comedy which it does capitalize on but again in largely predictable ways. The process of killing is largely absent outside here of a few scenes with us mostly seeing the aftermath of the murders, consisting of quick shots of bodies with streaks of blood on their faces. Nothing is lost by the lack of gore but the moments where we see the kills take place are some of the more effective in both their comedy and brutality so it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity. A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is far from unwatchable with a pleasant aesthetic and capable performances but it’s too predictable to earn a strong recommendation.
MOVIE RATING 6 out of 10