A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life, arguably one of the best dark comedies to come out of the British Isles in a few years, was recently made available in these United States and Canada on iTunes and Digital HD Monday, 13 January 2020. If you’ve ever wondered what the title characters of Thelma (Geena Davis) & Louise (Susan Sarandon) would be like if they were serial killers, this would be it.
The film, written and directed by Staten Cousins Roe, revolves around self-help addict Lou Farnt. Katie Brayben, playing Lou, is possibly better known to Luther fans as Penny Leyton. The actress also appeared in the 2017 Doctor Who episode Oxygen. Lou “unwittingly finds herself on a killing spree with her unhinged life coach.”
Lou has a mundane life and an overbearing control-freak of a mother (Sarah Ball) she’d like to escape. A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life opens midway through an interview with Chuck Noah (Ben Lloyd-Hughes). Noah, a self-help coach, exudes confidence as he expresses his thoughts. Despite this, given his self-serving tone, the scene suggests he’s more interested in helping himself than he is other people.
Shortly thereafter, we see our main character listening to Noah through her headphones as she walks aimlessly. Almost pumping into a man walking in the opposite direction, she is immediately brought out of her bubble.
Not amused by her paying more attention to her audio device than she is with where she’s walking, the guy tells her to “watch where you’re f*cking going.” Her response is awkwardly mumbled. I choose to highlight this moment because it quintessentially illustrates the kind of person Lou is. Outwardly, Lou is quiet, shy, and socially awkward. She allows people to walk all over her. Consequently, because of this, she is seen as a doormat.
Constantly reminded of her situation, Lou is a small-town girl who’s feeling the pangs of being in a rut. It doesn’t help that Maureen, Lou’s mother, constantly makes comparisons between her daughter and Betty Smith. Betty, according to her mother, is a lawyer. With the film being set in the British Isles, I think the more appropriate term would be “solicitor.” It must be frustrating to have a mother that constantly observes how little one has accomplished.
Irritated with her life, not to mention her mother, Lou attends a self-help seminar. This is where she meets a mysteriously alluring woman named Val Stone (Poppy Roe). Val, a confident self-empowered woman, seems to possess the answers Lou needs to succeed in life.
“When you give yourself over to possibility, anything can and will happen,” Noah said in a voiceover.
After finding Val living at a trailer park, from this point on, Lou’s life takes a dramatic turn. It is here that we discover Val is a killer. It’s not until later that we discover she’s a serial killer.
Lou and Val, the Thelma and Louise of this film, respectively, are distinctly different. Lou, in contrast to Val, is meekly awkward. They are opposites in every way imaginable. Val, something that makes the character feel familiar, has a positively sinister aura around her. She’s not someone that one would want to meet down a dark alley in the dead of night.
Whilst the two women possess significant differences, one can’t help but notice Lou has a well-hidden darkness lurking within her. Note the scene where she picks up a rock and begins to run after a woman. Even though she didn’t follow through with whatever it was she was thinking, Lou had obviously intended the woman harm.
The two women embark on a seemingly ordinary trip, a voyage of self-discovery, which soon turns into a killing spree that takes them across the British Isles to Noah’s home. It sounds like Val has a score to settle with the self-help expert.
On route to their first stop, a nature therapy session, Val kills the petrol station attendee off-camera. Even though we hear the individual struggling with Val, Lou doesn’t concern herself with investigating the odd sounds emanating from inside the building. Lou does, however, notice a spec of blood on Val’s face. Lou is quiet and shy, not blind.
A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is based on Roe’s 2013 much-acclaimed short film This Way Out. The short film, starring Poppy Roe, Katie Brayben, Sarah Ball, Christopher Gilling, and Adam Venus, proves the perfect jumping-off point for a feature film.
Val and Lou, with how Roe and Brayben present the characters, complement each other perfectly. There is obvious chemistry between Roe and Brayben that can’t be faked. It’s this same chemistry that we saw in the short film This Way Out. There is a believability to their respective characters that shines through the performances.
“Life is like a box of chocolates,” Noah said, “all the crappy ones get left behind.”
There is a significant body count in this dark comedy. There is nothing quite like a bloodcurdling film that makes one giggle and tremble at the same time. Even though there are a few slow moments, with a run time of approximately 80 minutes, Roe’s film keeps our attention because it remains focused on the two main characters. Smart and clever, A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is a brilliantly well-executed dark comedy.