Back in July, we were honoured to be invited to a cast and crew screening of A Serial Killers Guide to Life, taking place at the prestigious Regent Street Cinema (billed as a horror comedy, it was only fitting that I tripped up the screening’s stairs and broke a toe). From first-time feature director Staten Cousins Roe, acting as writer, producer, director and editor, this truly is the brainchild of a dedicated team – so what did we think?
Lou (Katie Brayben) is lost. 30-something, living with her overbearing, needy mother, working a dead-end shop assistant job in her hometown just outside of Brighton, Lou looks to self-help books, CDs and videos to ‘find herself’. Desperate to escape her boring life, she refers to the words of smooth-talking guide Chuck Knoah (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) when she needs a pick-me-up.
Whilst attending a local self-help therapy session, she meets the mysterious Val (Poppy Roe), a self-help guru of sorts who’s taken by Lou’s meekness, and encourages her to get in touch so they can begin Lou’s journey of self-discovery together. Once on the road, the pair visit esteemed guides across the UK, all specialising in different areas and ideas – hugging trees, sound bathing, yoga positions to simulate travelling through the birth canal…But as time passes and Lou travels further away from her home comforts, she starts to notice that things aren’t all as they seem and maybe it’s Val who needs help.
A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life leads us on a stab-happy, hilarious roadtrip across the south of the UK, as we follow Lou and Val on their journey of self-discovery – who knew finding yourself would be so violent!
The superb performances from all involved (including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her role for Fleabag star Sian Clifford) really lift A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life to new heights. Brayben’s Lou is sappy, wet, boring – and she plays it so well! From the off we know who she is, with her rounded shoulders, lack of eye contact, and almost childish dress sense (lots of pastel colours, dungarees, cardigans and hair clips). She’s self-conscious, lonely, stuck underneath her mother’s thumb. Enter Roe’s Val, with her razor sharp cheekbones, bold red lipstick, and unwavering confidence. She’s the opposite of Lou and everything she wants to be. How could she turn down the offer of a lifetime, giving her a chance to leave her suffocating home environment for something bigger, better…bloodier.
Despite not speaking for the majority of the narrative, Brayben conveys so much just through her facial expressions, as does Roe. The arch of an eyebrow from the latter and we know the latest guru visited is in trouble, while Brayben looks on, helpless, eyes wide and confused. In contrast, the supporting cast have a lot to say, making our main characters’ silence all the more obvious and effective. The pair make for a brilliant double act, like a modern day Thelma and Louise, just armed with a rolling pin, a choke-hold and covered in blood. We’re hooked from the off, waiting for the next twist to reveal itself.
Cousin Roe’s simple style – the realistic, no-fuss cinematography really helps to drop us into the scene – lets the story take centre stage, only helped by the natural chemistry between Brayben and Roe. Shot in locations across the south of the country, we’re given a tour of the beautiful English countryside as Lou and Val take to the road, onto their next kill. As the story develops, we see Lou develop too, into a more confident, rounded character, aided by Val’s encouragements and ‘wisdom’. Despite their violence, we’re glad they’ve got each other and we want them to succeed (whatever that means when you’re a serial killer).
All-round, A Serial Killers Guide to Life is a strong debut, full of wit, laughs and warmth – From its high quality of writing and production, it’s hard to believe this is Cousin Roe’s first feature-length piece. Go for the premise, stay for the performances.