“Be me, then be yourself”, advises self-help guru Chuck Knoah (Ben Lloyd Hughes) in the motivational video that opens A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life. “You can be like me, but you can’t be me,” he adds, sounding like an unhinged – and somewhat confused – narcissist. “You can be like me.”
The psychotically manipulative nature of so many life coaches and the fraudulent nature of their self-improvement snake oil are central to Staten Cousins Roe’s feature debut – the targets of both the writer/director’s cutting satire, and of one of his characters’ killing spree.
Lou Farnt (Katie Brayben) is a put-upon young cipher, living under the roof, and thumb, of her domineering, passive-aggressive mother (Sarah Ball), apologising meekly for other people’s mistakes, and desperate to become a different person. Her only escape from her humdrum, mediocre existence is to lose herself in self-help literature and recordings, as she struggles to visuallise a new, better version of herself. So when she meets Val Stone (Poppy Roe), a confident, assertive, frankly rude woman with “an ambition to be the greatest life coach in the world”, Lou is spellbound, and quickly agrees to become her travelling companion and disciple, following her new mentor on a car trip through East Sussex to sample different therapies. The problem is that Val is a serial killer, her plan being to wipe out all the self-improvement competition – and as Lou ever so slowly grasps that her new friend is leaving a trail of corpses behind them, she must decide whether deep down she wants be more herself, or more like Val.
The film, too, comes with something of a divided identity. For as this odd couple meets in a self-help session and heads off together down the rocky road to self-realisation, A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life falls somewhere between Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers (2012), Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise (1991), David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) and Alice Lowe’s Prevenge (2016). Though this strange escapade is punctuated by multiple murders most foul, Roe focuses far less on the messy business of killing than on the unusual bond that keeps these two women together even as they come apart at the seams. Accordingly this is all at once a twisted psychodrama (with sly laughs aplenty), a road trip movie, a ‘return to nature’ and a ‘rebirthing’, a buddy pic, and a seven-step programme to a better Lou – or at least one who ultimately attains greater self-knowledge.
A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.