Serial killers are everywhere these days, from bookshelves to biopics and, most frequently, documentaries. But is this cultural fascination healthy, and what role does this type of media play in emboldening its subjects? A frighteningly literal answer is given to these quandaries by first time director Conor Boru in his debut feature ‘When the Screaming Starts’, one of this year’s forerunners at FrightFest Film Festival. Billed as “Louis Theroux meets the Manson Family”, this lithe British horror-comedy (which mercifully doesn’t star Danny Dyer) promises a high concept cocktail of laughs garnished with blood and guts; yet it’s in its stark, unsubtle social commentary where ‘Screaming’ stands a cut above the rest.
Based on a screenplay by Boru and Ed Hartland (who incidentally stars), ‘Screaming’ details the plight of Norman Graysmith (Jared Rogers), a documentary filmmaker who, in his search for cinematic greatness, offers to record wannabe serial killer Aidan Mendle (Hartland) as he establishes his own cult in a bid to become the terror of the town.
The shadow of Ricky Gervais’ ‘The Office’ lingers over the film. “Ours is a family of acceptance”; Aidan, whose tragic desire for belonging motivates his attempted depravity, tells his cult as they break the ice, which is populated by deviants with similar traits. We smirk alongside this weirdly lovable crew of misfits in their quest for personal connection until it takes an irrevocably dark turn, for ‘Screaming’ is, at its core, an impressive exercise in subversion. I shan’t divulge any spoilers but there comes a point where the laughter stops and we are harrowingly reminded that in a film about serial killers, blood must be spilt.
This indulgence in Gervaises-que cringe humour initially works well in lulling the viewer into a false sense of security but regrettably outstays its welcome, drying up some of the picture’s promised laughter throughout the first sixty minutes. To the film’s credit, though, there are plenty of chuckles to be had, especially from the character of Jack (Yasen Artour) who embodies his ‘everyman’ character with effortless charisma and an infectious curiosity for the macabre. Yet the build-up to the unflinching final act comes across as more feckless than disciplined, which I fear may turn some viewers away before the feature’s masterful conclusion.
Final prompts deservedly go to the cast; the aforementioned Artour may take most of the laughs, but every cast member packs a punch. Jared Rogers’ deadpan performance is the ensemble’s backbone and is complemented greatly by the pathos Ed Hartland delivers. The supporting players deserve due commendation; they breathe life into conceptually flat characters. Octavia Gilmore’s sadistic Amy, for example, nearly steals the film whenever her character takes prominence.
‘When the Screaming Starts’ resuscitates the ailing British horror-comedy and turns the mockumentary format on its head. Both gory and glorious it is guaranteed to have even the most cynical of genre enthusiasts beaming as the credits roll.