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Ken Boyd (Kevin Corrigan) is the schlubby hero of Some Guy Who Kills People: he’s a withdrawn sad sack who lives with his sarcastic mom (Karen Black) and works at the local ice cream parlor.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.