The latest release from Arrow Films is the British Black Comedy A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life. Set to be released in the US and Canada on iTunes and Digital HD on January 13, 2020, this film is the debut feature from Writer-Director Staten Cousins Roe and was produced by Forward Motion Pictures, which he runs alongside his wife Poppy Roe. What began as a film inspired by their critically-acclaimed short This Way Out, which screened on HBO and Sundance Channel, grew into what can only be described as Thelma & Louise (1991) if they were, well, serial killers.
The story follows Lou Farnt (Katie Brayben: King Charles III TV movie 2017, Doctor Who series), a self-help addict who longs for an escape from her mundane life and controlling mother. As the film opens, we see an excerpt from an interview with Chuck Noah (Ben Lloyd-Hughes: Divergent 2014, Me Before You 2016), a self-help coach who sounds more self-serving than anything. It then cuts to the title card and we see our main character walking down the street, listening to Noah spill his nonsense through her headphones as she absorbs his audio tape. She then bumps into a man who proceeds to tell her to “watch where you’re f*cking going,” and she awkwardly mumbles a response.
This moment perfectly depicts the type of person our protagonist is. Lou is quiet, socially awkward, and is seen as a doormat. She’s a small-town girl who’s going through a rut in her life and is constantly reminded of it by those around her. Her mother Maureen (Sarah Ball: The Feast of the Goat 2005, The Living and the Dead 2006) is constantly comparing her to her friend Betty, a high-profile lawyer. Fed up with the direction her life is heading, she attends a self-help seminar where she meets Val Stone (Poppy Roe: Drawn 2008, This Way Out short 2013), a mysterious and alluring woman who seems to have the answers to all of Lou’s problems.
From there, they embark on a road trip and that’s where our story truly begins to take a drastic turn as we discover that Val is a serial killer. What starts out as a seemingly normal trip to experience various self-help classes, to learn and grow into a better version of yourself, turns into an entirely different lesson laid out in blood.
From their first interaction, you can tell there’s a stark contrast between Lou and Val. Where Lou is meek and awkward, with a certain innocence about her, Val is quite the opposite, with a darker more sinister aura. This is definitely played up as the characters develop and their relationship is established, and it’s also emphasized through the cinematographic choices – everything from their clothing and the background score tell you more about who they are.
Despite their obvious differences, Val and Lou make quite the pair. This is because, like most self-help stories, Lou had it in her the entire time. One of the first glimpses of the darkness that lurks beneath the surface is when Lou picks up a rock and follows another woman with the intent to harm her. The dynamics between Roe and Brayben are phenomenal, their chemistry is one of the biggest positives about this film.
Their bond from the short film to now has only blossomed and adds to their performance in this film. Each of their performances is both believable and entertaining, which is what makes the film’s comedic moments enjoyable instead of cringe worthy. There is nothing like a film that can make you laugh and shudder at the same time.
Despite the film’s slower moments, it still holds up till the very end. The combination of the ridiculous self-help rituals combined with bloody violence all makes for a solid Black Comedy. This is a sub-genre that can prove to be difficult, because if it’s not executed just right the entire film and its purpose can fall flat. Thanks to Roe’s sensational writing, the chemistry between Roe and Brayben, and the story’s dedication to development, A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is a smart and clever Black Comedy that both fans of Horror and the average viewer will enjoy. For this, Cryptic Rock gives A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life 5 out of 5 stars.