This is most certainly not your typical film based on a young adult novel. Dark and a little creepy. Not your usual fare. It has a kind of Dexter and Six Feet Under feel to it. Though with all that said there is a charming aspect to the film. From the odd teenager who everyone around him thinks might become a serial killer one day left to his own devices and the old man across the street who loves his wife very much there are plenty of heartstring moments to be found within the darkness.
Living in a small Midwestern town in which the population is under 8,000 and you are the teenage son of the woman who owns the funeral parlor it is written in the stars that you will be an outsider. Teased and tormented by many of his classmates, John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records – Where the Wild Things Are, The Brothers Bloom) helps his mom and her assistant with the embalming and sees a therapist (Karl Geary – Hamlet – 2000, Jimmy’s Hall) to help him manage his sociopathic leanings.
Despite this side of him he also seems to have another in which John is capable of having warm feelings toward another human. There is a classmate named Brooke (Lucy Lawton), who seems to have caught his attention and there is an elderly couple, Mr. Crowley (Christopher Lloyd – Back to the Future, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and his wife Kay (Dee Noah – Factotum), across the street who he does nice things for.
Suddenly it is apparent that there is a serial killer operating in the small town. This is almost too much for John. He must know who is doing the killing. So he stumbles upon the truth and then the truth behind the truth. The question then becomes what he is going to do with this knowledge?
The feasibility of the film rests squarely on the shoulders of young Max Records and he knocks it out of the park. There is no straining in the performance. He does not go for a kid who is too dark nor one who is trying too hard to get you to like him. A nice comeback for someone who after having success as a child actor kind of disappeared for a while.
Irish director Billy O’Brien (Isolation) makes plenty of good decisions in the getting this film to screen. First off the fact that films it all grey, gloomy and gritty really suits the story’s purposes. Plus that he has infused it with that small town feel adds to the tone. When that happens it is not out of the blue that all the quirky and creepy things that end up happening occur.
This is never going to be a film that does commercially well other than with cult film fans and at festivals like Fantasia. There is no big box office draw here. It will be seen as too quirky and too dark. There is some killing that happens, but it is not even close to what happens in action films or even some other young adult film series like Hunger Games or Divergent. I guess, what most disturbs people about a film like this is the portrayal of a young man who does not blink at death, blood or the inside parts of the human body. John is devoid of those sentiments that we like to think make us human, so some might find him disturbing.