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A Serial Killer's Guide to Life

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

Review by Craig Draheim


Directed by: Staten Cousins Roe Written by: Staten Cousins Roe Starring: Katie Brayben, Poppy Roe, Ben Lloyd-Hughes

Have you felt lost in your life, found it hard to manage, to cope with? Have you turned to self-help programs with the hope they’ll make life easier? Let’s say a life coach promises to unlock your full potential, and all that’s required is a road trip with a slight body count, would you take it? That’s Staten Cousins Roe’s A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life.   The story follows Lou (Katie Brayben), a “self-help addict” who is aimless and desperate to take control of her own life. At a seminar, she meets Val (Poppy Roe), a life coach determined to become the greatest self-help guru that ever lived. Val invites Lou to join her on a retreat where they’ll participate in other self-help programs before she unveils her own steps to success. Lou learns that Val’s methods involve the murder of other self-help gurus and their followers, leading to a “jet-black comedy” of self-discovery.  I should admit that while I try to go into everything without expectations, the promotional references to Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers and Alice Lowe’s Prevenge (both with serial killing premises) challenged me in that I’m a fan of both films. Rest assured A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life does not disappoint either. The movie offers great comedic moments in its satirizing of the self-help industry, but what sets it apart from the plethora of serial killer content lately, is its heart. While the commentary on the gurus and their exploitation of people is blatant, the movie puts a lot of care into the “victims” of these programs: People, like so many of us, trying to navigate through a chaotic world and looking for guidance along the way. 

Despite the name and potential for nihilism the movie is surprisingly tranquil and sublime, formatted like a self-help program, featuring very little violence on screen. Though one could believe the lack of “shown” violence is due to budgetary restrictions, it feels purposeful. We are seeing the series of events unfold through Lou’s eyes, which of course concedes some unstable narration within the story. As she is unaware or blissfully ignorant of Val’s methods for a good chunk of the story, allowing for great gags, this provides solid reasoning behind the lack of violence. A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life reaffirms what crowdfunding can accomplish when the people involved have a unique artistic vision and are passionate. It’s one of those projects that no matter what the budget could’ve been, it’d have the same result.

Its success can’t go without mentioning leads, Katie Brayben and Poppy Roe. Their talent and chemistry make them compelling and relatable to the audience, which can sometimes get lost in films like these. As an American viewer I know ultimately, with its British black comedy, mumblecore esthetic, and subject matter, A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life will probably fall into a “niche” category. Audiences looking for a comedy may not find enough jokes and people looking for a serial killer flick will want more thrills. For me, it’s right up my alley, marking an impressive end of one decade and the start of a new. Like Sightseers and Prevenge this has made it on my list of movies I’ll be championing for some time. So, check it out. Come for the jokes, kills, or whatever you want, but stay for the experience.

Check out Craig's interview with filmmaker Staten Cousins Roe below

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