The seri­al killer film is amongst the most played-out sub­gen­res in cur­rent hor­ror and thriller film­mak­ing.  The same could be said for the “loser makes good” com­e­dy that has long been a reli­able part of inde­pen­dent cin­e­ma trends.  However, even the stalest sub­gen­re can regain its fresh­ness when it is cross­bred with anoth­er sub­gen­re, par­tic­u­lar­ly if the matchup is an unlike­ly one.

And that brings us to Some Guy Who Kills People, which com­bi­nes the seri­al killer movie with the “loser makes good” com­e­dy to cre­ate a fusion that is by turns mor­dant­ly fun­ny, sur­pris­ing­ly sweet and pos­sessed of an unex­pect­ed­ly on-tar­get mes­sage about the real dan­gers of bul­ly­ing.

Ken Boyd (Kevin Corrigan) is the schlub­by hero of Some Guy Who Kills People: he’s a with­drawn sad sack who lives with his sar­cas­tic mom (Karen Black) and works at the local ice cream par­lor.  He has a tal­ent for comic book-style art but keeps it to him­self as he tries to get through day-to-day life in a qui­et, incog­ni­to fash­ion.  He has his rea­sons: many years ago, he was bru­tal­ly bul­lied by the school’s bas­ket­ball jocks, an inci­dent that led to a sui­cide attempt and a stint in a men­tal hos­pi­tal.

Out of nowhere, his life becomes com­pli­cat­ed on a num­ber of fronts.  He gets a new com­pan­ion when Amy (Ariel Gade), a daugh­ter that was kept from him for 11 years, finds out he is her father.  He also gets a chance at romance when Stephanie (Lucy Davis), an expa­tri­ate Brit with a self-dep­re­cat­ing sense of humor, takes a shine to him.  Finally, the jocks who tor­ment­ed him as a teen — the ones who still sneer at him, the ones he finds him­self glar­ing at — start turn­ing up dead.

The end result shouldn’t have worked as well as it did.  Some Guy Who Kills People is the kind of film that shifts tones as fre­quent­ly as it shifts gen­res: dark humor, sus­pense, pathos, dra­ma and are just a few of the col­ors favored on this film’s tonal palet­te.  Thankfully, it nev­er miss­es a step as it nav­i­gates its risky high­wire act of a nar­ra­tive because its sto­ry­telling is as craft-con­scious as it is imag­i­na­tive.

Ryan Levin’s clev­er script is care­ful­ly con­struct­ed, eas­ing us into the sto­ry by get­ting us to see Ken as the peo­ple in his life see him and then grad­u­al­ly reveal­ing aspects of his char­ac­ter and the trau­ma that haunts him as the events around him bring out dif­fer­ent parts of his char­ac­ter. Similar sleight of hand is used well else­where in the sto­ry, par­tic­u­lar­ly in how Amy’s char­ac­ter is pre­sent­ed to us and a real­ly crafty sur­prise in the third act.

Levin keeps the twists of his nar­ra­tive acces­si­ble by pac­ing it with set­pieces — each of the mur­ders is enter­tain­ing in a macabre way — and lac­ing it with tart­ly comedic dia­logue.  It’s also reward­ing that the final stages of the sto­ry reveal an impor­tant mes­sage about bul­ly­ing: the actu­al abuse isn’t the worst/most dan­ger­ous part of being bul­lied, it’s the way the after-effects col­or the way a bul­ly­ing vic­tim sees the world.

A script this tricky could have fal­l­en apart in the wrong hands but direc­tor Jack Perez main­tains the script’s sense of bal­ance in his direc­tion.  The key to his work here is that he trusts the script’s abil­i­ty to do the nar­ra­tive heavy lift­ing and nev­er over­sells any of the com­e­dy, dra­ma or shocks.

Instead, he wise­ly invests him­self in giv­ing the film an appro­pri­ate visu­al pre­sen­ta­tion: shad­owy inte­ri­ors for the dra­mat­ic sce­nes, bright­ly-col­ored sets and exte­ri­ors for the humor­ous moments and stark black-and-white for the flash­backs.  Cinematographer Shawn Maurer deserves kudos for mak­ing this visu­al scheme work, as his rich­ly-tex­tured lens­ing gives the film a “real movie” look that indies often lack.

However, Perez’s most impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions to the suc­cess of Some Guy Who Kills People lies in his savvy cast­ing and his deft work with his actors.  Character thesp Corrigan shi­nes in his lead role: he plays again­st type here, bypass­ing the sarcastic/streetwise per­sona he’s per­fect­ed in films like Pineapple Express to play an intro­vert who lets us know what’s on his mind with­out direct­ly say­ing it.  Gade gives a nice­ly unaf­fect­ed per­for­mance as his daugh­ter, build­ing a nice chem­istry with Corrigan and show­ing good comedic tim­ing.  The same can be said for Davis, who uses her dis­tinct­ly English knack for dead­pan under­state­ment to add iron­ic tex­ture to her dia­logue.

And that’s not all that is wor­thy of note in the act­ing depart­ment. Black lends mem­o­rable sup­port as a mom whose car­ing does bat­tle with a gift for acid cyn­i­cism: she throws her ver­bal darts with lethal accu­ra­cy.  There is also an unex­pect­ed­ly poignant per­for­mance from Leo Fitzpatrick (Telly from Kids, all grown up) as a coworker/longtime friend of Ken’s who wants his friend to have a bet­ter life.

Best of all, there is a stel­lar, scene-steal­ing turn from Barry Bostwick as the town’s sher­iff, who also hap­pens to be dat­ing Black.  He plays the role as a kind of over­sexed Columbo, mak­ing a show of being out-to-lunch yet hav­ing a knack for clev­er obser­va­tions that pops up when least expect­ed.  His dead­pan-yet-lunatic reac­tions to the mur­der sce­nes provide some of the biggest laughs in the film and his work over­all shows what a fine char­ac­ter actor he has matured into.

Simply put, Some Guy Who Kills People is one of the most pleas­ant sur­pris­es to hit the cin­e­mat­ic cir­cuit this year.  It’s dark­ly fun­ny, unex­pect­ed­ly mov­ing and social­ly rel­e­vant by turns, exact­ly the kind of film that film lovers need in this era of remakes, reboots and board game movie adap­ta­tions.  In oth­er words, see it as soon as you can.