When we meet Lou she is a rather sad figure. Beaten down by an overbearing mother and addicted to self-help gurus, she is someone who needs a pick-me up. And into her life enters Val, a sharply spoken figure, brimming with charisma, who takes Lou under her wing and on a road trip of the South. But, as the title suggests, there’s a secret to Val, in the form of her additional work as a serial killer.
Making his feature debut Staten Cousins Roe writes and directs with bravado. Pulling away from gratuitousness, Roe’s narrative is compelling, with his script packed with fabulous one-liners (there are several hearty laughs). The world around Lou and Val seems far crazier than either of them and it is genuinely cathartic to watch the two explore real-life alternative therapy and administer the revenge much needed. This catharsis, mixed with a humour and sweetness makes A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life such an endearing watch. The film occasionally gets stuck in the telling of its second half but resounds to a terrific finale that gives resolution to Lou’s journey with Val whilst also proving strangely upbeat. I left my screening with a bright smile on my face and the knowledge that I’d watched a film to match the like of Sightseers and Prevenge.
A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life benefits greatly from the duo of Katie Brayben and Poppy Roe. Brayben enthuses Lou with a warmth and kindness that makes her a wonderful screen presence. And yet there is an edge to Brayben’s turn, building Lou to be a more active participant in the film’s narrative. On the flip side Roe is initially a harsh figure, equipped with many a witty line and a harsh putdown that matches her persona. But she softens as the film goes on, proving a fascinating showcase for Roe’s acting skills. They are ably supported by a cracking ensemble. Ben Lloyd-Hughes is a hoot as a sort-of self-help final boss, whilst there are fun smaller turns from the likes of Tomiwa Edun, Sinead Matthews and Sian Clifford. If the writing sometimes lacks the nuance to boost supporting players beyond the two-dimensional it in facts blends nicely with the tone of the film. And with Brayben and Roe giving subtle, shifting turns A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is always a fascinating watch.
Gentler than Sightseers, more approachable than Prevenge, A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is nevertheless a wonderfully unique British comedy. Powered a pair of fabulous turns and punctuated by some delightfully violent escapades, this one of the horror must watches of the year. Seek it out and you may find yourself seeing life from Val’s fabulous acidic point-of-view.