In its best moments, A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is an engaging, sharp, witty and darkly fun black comedy, though one that doesn’t quite live up to its full potential.
The film tells the story of Lou (Katie Brayben), a woman who is dissatisfied with how her life has turned out so far and who finds inspiration in self-help literature, more specifically the audiobooks of a man named Chuck Knoah (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), a very confident American who takes on something of a messiah role for his devotees who hang on his every vacuous word. A chance encounter with aspiring life coach Val (Poppy Roe) changes Lou’s life and what follows is a journey through England to various so-called ‘alternative therapies’, which the pair sample in their own unique way.
This is writer-director Staten Cousins-Roe’s first feature-length film and it is one that shows plenty of promise. Cousins-Roe handles the tone excellently, particularly when the film is revelling in its dissection of the nonsense that Lou and Val subject themselves to. The script broils with a barely contained acerbic quality that finds mirth in the ridiculousness, the situations always exacerbated when Val’s true intentions eventually rise to the fore. This, blended with the off-kilter chemistry that Lou and Val have throughout, makes for an engaging and amusing experience.
Sadly, the film never manages to take the concept to the next level, and thus it remains watchable without being remarkable. Of course, the subject matter calls to mind other British classics such as Sightseers or Prevenge, but it lacks the bite of those films and instead feels more at arm’s length rather than as visceral as it could be. It is divided into loose ‘chapters’ courtesy of excerpts of Knoah’s self-help books, and while these are amusing, again they feel a little hollow and thin by the end. There is a sense that once the film has made its central point about the therapies it so joyfully rips apart, it doesn’t know where else to go.
Nevertheless, there’s definitely plenty here to go on, and the ride is fun while it lasts. Brayben and Roe are immensely talented and bring the story to life, and each scenario has its own little joys, as the supporting cast all provide their own quirks and oddities for the central pair to work from, leading to more highly enjoyable spiky, strange encounters. Where Cousins-Roe might succeed best is in his central characterisation of Lou, who is impossible not to empathise with even as she becomes more embroiled in the horrible shenanigans. That central empathy makes her quest for self-fulfilment all the more understandable, and its descent into depravity interesting. While it may not have the staying power of some of its predecessors, it definitely shows enough to be worthwhile and entertaining while it is on, even if it starts to lose its lustre by the end.
Dir: Staten Cousins-Roe
Scr: Staten Cousins-Roe
Cast: Katie Brayben, Poppy Roe, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Sian Clifford, Tomiwa Edun, Owen Rhys Davies, Carys Lewis
Prd: Poppy Roe, Christy Wakefield, Giles Alderson
DoP: James Layton
Music: Lawrence Love Greed
Runtime: 81 mins
A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is released on Digital HD on 13th January 2020.