You walk into a film called Psychopaths with certain expectations. There’s an admirable honesty to the title. That is where my admiration for Psychopaths ends. I am a hook-line-and-sinker horror fan, which means I’m willing to forgive a lot in service of a scare. Nonsensical plot? Sure. One-dimensional characters? Bring ‘em on. So a film like Psychopaths should be tailor made for someone like me. Instead, the young writer/director Mickey Keating has created a film that is essentially for no one.
Psychopath starts out with an intriguing premise. The infamous serial killer Starkweather, played by underground horror icon Larry Fessenden (We’re Still Here) is executed, but not before vowing that the evil inside him will be distributed amongst others and continue to wreak havoc and horror. His death sets off a busy night for a string of serial killers and psychopaths whose paths keep intersecting. Now, that sounds very promising, and it probably would be, if it were actually what happens in the film. We know that’s what we’re supposed to be watching because of the incessant and inane voiceover delivered by Jeff Daniel Phillips that strings the film together. Without the narration, Psychopaths would be little more than series of loosely overlapping vignettes.
The horror genre is often maligned for being plotless, which is an accusation that’s simply not true. Horror is one of the most plot-driven filmic genres. You can’t develop expectations without formula and you can’t develop formula without plot structure, and horror films thrive on the subversion of expectations. In Psychopaths, narrative takes a back seat to psychedelic visuals and sloppy violence. Psychopaths is something of a case study in plotlessness – a film in which cause and effect has no bearing on the events that unfold, which wouldn’t be problematic if what was put up on screen weren’t so dull.
Our aforementioned psychopaths are as follows: The Strangler (James Landry Hébert), a mustachioed serial killer who, you guessed it – strangles people. Blondie (Angela Trimbur), a woman who likes to lure men into her basement and torture them and is, you guessed it – blonde. The mask, a contract killer (Sam Zimmerman) who, you guessed it again – wears a mask. Then there’s Alice (Ashley Bell), an escaped mental patient who thinks she’s a 1950s performer. You know you’re dealing with a quality film when the writer puts such depth into his characters. Psychopaths evidently takes place in a small town that is just dripping with serial killers. Well, at least I think it’s a small town. To be honest, it could be a city. Who knows? Keating is even less interested in creating a sense of place than he is creating characters.
Almost all of Psychopaths is a paint-by-numbers affair. Nearly every set piece feels like the poor man’s version of a better film. There’s the hunter becomes the hunter inversion set piece; the killer who you think is dead isn’t dead set piece; the home invasion set piece. It’s all bits and pieces of things you’ve seen before. His masked killer wears plastic novelty masks, a la You’re Next or The Strangers. When he’s not wearing them, he hangs them onto decrepit mannequins because mannequins are creepy right? Right guys? Guys?
The scant original moments to be found in Psychopaths are courtesy of Ashley Bell’s Alice. Her narrative revolves around her terrorizing a feuding couple as she slips in and out of her time-warp fantasy and contends with at least one alternate personality. It’s not exactly cutting edge stuff, but Bell plays it with enough menace and manic energy to make it a welcome respite from the rest of this dour affair.
For better or worse, the young Mickey Keating is prolific, having already written and directed five horror films before the age of 30. With such stats, it wouldn’t be wrong to see him as a kind of wunderkind of indie-horror. It also wouldn’t be wrong to, after seeing Carnage Park and Psychopaths, see him as a cautionary tale about hopping in the director’s chair a little too early.
Verdict: 1 out of 5
Psychopaths feels like the ill-digested result of Mickey Keating’s Netflix queue blended together with Four Loko. It’s a derivative, schlocky, mess that feels more like a collection of low-rent, knockoff moments than a feature film. It’s bad enough that the film’s narrator actually apologizes for the movie’s nonsense in the third act. Keating has built a film that will alienate casual viewers and leave horror fans irritated and annoyed. Psychopaths is a deeply unpleasant movie. If you’re a fan of noisy nonsense, I highly recommend throwing some spoons into a blender instead. It will be a better use of your time.