Severely lacking in confidence and frequently belittled by her overbearing, emotionally manipulative mother, Lou (Katie Brayben) attempts to become the person she wants to be by immersing herself in the world of self-help. It’s at an event held by a (terrible) motivational speaker that Lou meets Val (Poppy Roe) whose goal is to become the greatest life coach of all time.
Val’s also looking for someone to accompany her on a once-in-a-lifetime road trip of self-discovery and Lou sees this as a means to get away from the drudgery of her current lifestyle, for a few days in any case. On their journey they will take in various forms of alternative therapies, with the ultimate aim of paying a visit to self-help superstar Chuck Knoah (Ben Lloyd-Hughes). However, for those invested in the healing properties of woodland camping retreats, singing bowls and laughter circles, matters are going to turn decidedly deadly…
If you quite like sitting in a field chanting “Om” then you might be a tad miffed about A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life as it takes aim at both the weird ways in which we try to find ourselves and those who put forward these methods as the cure-all for our ills. The suggestion, or at least Val’s take on them, is that they’re, how shall I put it, bollocks. Or maybe you’re thoroughly Zen about it all and hey, doesn’t work for everyone, right? Cool.
This road trip couldn’t be more English if it tried, taking in caravan parks, quiet corners of suburbia, the lush, green countryside and the A23 (I see you, exit for Hassocks) and in Lou we have a protagonist who embodies many British qualities, such as not speaking up for herself and being way too polite to people even when they’re swearing at her.
Val, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different. She’s cold, brusque, knows exactly what she wants and will do whatever it takes to get it. Woe betide anyone who stands in her way. She’s also a dab hand with a mallet, whether it’s pitching a tent or bashing some poor unfortunate’s bonce in. However, she sees something in Lou, a chance to test out her life coach mojo on what most would see as a hopeless case. So what if people have to die along the way?
Writer/director Staten Cousins-Roe’s film recalls the similar travelogue/kill fest movie Sightseers but there’s far less gore here than in Ben Wheatley’s movie. This focuses more on the dynamic between Lou and Val while also poking fun at tree-hugging types who can’t wait for us to get in touch with our spiritual side. There’s literally tree-hugging in this, I’m not kidding. Having said that, there’s an interesting dichotomy at play when someone who’s unrelentingly annoying ends up dead. I mean, yes, they were full of themselves and tedious in the extreme but did they deserve to be bludgeoned? That’s up to you to decide.
There’s potential for this material to be far more lurid than it ends up being but for me this works better because it’s a more delicate shade of dark than absolutely pitch black. The lack of emphasis on the murders themselves sits better with the offbeat comic tone and this is helped particularly by the performance of Roe. Val is undeniably unhinged but there’s something fascinating about her even if she’s not a particularly sympathetic character.
Lou, on the other hand, gives the viewer something more with which to engage and her inner conflicts about the escalating carnage all point to that moment when she’s going to have to make a decision about where the rest of her life is going, which also means her slightly uneasy student/mentor relationship with Val will be tested to the full. Brayben is rather fine as the nervous, downtrodden Lou, who gradually gains the confidence and power to fight back in all senses of that phrase.
Framed as a series of steps from one of Chuck’s Knoah’s self-help guides, A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life covers plenty of ground which will be familiar to fans of the genre but still has a couple of (un)pleasant little surprises up its sleeve. The final twist may not be as earth-shattering a revelation as it once would have been but it ties up the story in an agreeable way and doesn’t look to pull any last-minute, far-fetched swerves away from its denouement.
A strange, low-key, humorous entry into the pantheon of murder spree movies, the lack of gore in A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life may frustrate those looking for more of a bloody payoff but I’d suggest you look beyond that thirst for spilled guts and soak up this film’s quirky charms instead.