Psychopaths. 2017. Directed & Written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Ashley Bell, Larry Fessenden, Jeremy Gardner, James Landry Hébert,Mark Kassen, Miranda Parham, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Helen Rogers, Ivana Shein, & Padraig Reynolds.
Glass Eye Pix/High Window Films/Sorrows Entertainment
Not Rated. 85 minutes.
Mickey Keating is a talented young filmmaker. His films run the gamut of sub-genres within horror. Not just that, every one of his films feels like it’s influenced by a specific period in time. Keating himself has described Carnage Park as Sam Peckinpah-influenced, and there’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever his love of Repulsion is alive in Darling. He’s one of those director-writers that does well in a space somewhere between originality and homage. None of his films feel copied, but they all wear their respective inspirations on their sleeve.
Psychopaths, while not particularly an homage of any one film or filmmaker, does have a 1970s-inspired vibe. It’s similar to watching a Robert Altman ensemble film directed by someone like Dario Argento if he were going for less giallo, more grindhouse-style. Probably a foolish way to put it. A better way to write that would be it’s a Mickey Keating flick with the feel of the ’70s. Yeah; dig it.
The film isn’t really a whole, cohesive narrative, so much as it’s a series of vignettes about various psychopaths, all of whom draw inspiration from recently executed serial killer Henry Starkweather (Larry Fessenden). Don’t expect abundance of plot and story here. Go in looking for style, atmosphere, and a few gnarly performances – particularly those from Fessenden and Ashley Bell. Psychopaths isn’t perfect, nor does it have to be perfect, because Keating is having a ball.
This could’ve easily become just all about murder and blood. Yes, it’s definitely violent. However, Keating injects it with style. It’s why I mention an Argento influence. Even as we watch the assorted killers strangle, cut, and shoot their way through a cast of victims, Psychopaths never exactly becomes slasher horror, neither is it a giallo-style American thriller with numerous unique kills. The vignettes aren’t entirely disconnected. Mostly they provide Keating a chance to simply explore technique.
For instance, the film opens with Starkweather giving an interview on a grainy video. He’s really in Manson mode, though it’s great because Keating – and Fessenden – make the scene incredibly Manson-esque without copying Charlie himself at all. Afterwards, we move into another stylised sequence, and we’re dipped into a world of noir-ish neon; but with murder!
Later on, Bell’s character is captured in awesomely ’70s-type of shots where the camera’s tight on her face – throughout extraordinarily psychotic dialogue – evocative of the grindhouse era (another good modern example of this are various shots of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill). We’re watching a whole decade of influence, from pop culture to history and more in between.
Not to say the horror itself isn’t stylish. Not in a glorified sense, either. There’s a kinetic energy about the violence: brutal, fast, chaotic. Stylish, yet still nasty. There are plenty of violent horror movies out there, though I’d go out on a limb and say Psychopaths is one of the more – at least in recent memory – relentless horror films in terms of the constant violence. Just doesn’t stop until the credits roll. All the while we get interesting angles, unexpected light/shadow-play, and wonderful editing (courtesy of Valerie Krulfeifer), all of which compels the viewer not to avert their eyes. No matter how many people die.
Fessenden and Bell are the stars of the cast. I could watch anything with Fessenden – one of my favourite directors, too. His Starkweather is unsettling. Within only a couple minutes Henry gets under the viewer’s skin. The old film reel feel makes it seem like one of those various videos we’ve seen throughout history of serial killers and cult leaders interviewed. Fessenden gives it such perfectly dramatic life without going too over the top. His laugh’s burned into my ears now forever. (Thanks, Larry.)
That being said, Bell’s even better. She gets the most time with her character, and boy, what a character. Her asylum escapee is creepy, if not darkly comic at times. She gets the chance to show off her acting chops using a woman with multiple personalities to the fullest extent, to the point it’s scary. So many times the multiple personality disorder killer in horror can tumble into silliness, or cliche. Bell avoids all that. When she’s talking to herself? SPOOKY, man. That lady is SPOOKY.
Best of all, both Fessenden and Bell’s characters are examples of the overall theme in Psychopaths, being that evil is senseless; at least in terms of the binary concept of good versus evil. The at first seemingly disjointed narrative of the film – or a lack thereof, I suppose – becomes clearer once we consider the concept of evil itself as being without explanation. Keating’s not looking to characterise evil, he’s trying to make evil into a bunch of character vignettes which in turn evoke a film we might’ve actually seen during the ’70s. With these vignettes, Keating doesn’t try defining evil, but rather looks to drive home its utter madness.
Look, I get it: some people are going to find this movie, ultimately, a pointless endeavour. You should’t see it as pointless, even if you don’t dig what Keating is doing. At the very least admire that he’s a sort of chameleon, in an exciting way, and Psychopaths, if anything, is an energetic exercise in style. Also hard to deny Keating is making a point about senseless violence. Mainly, violent acts and so-called comes in many shapes and forms: ironically, while we see murder at the hands of several characters, violence and evil/madness are essentially faceless; the scariest point Psychopaths hammers into the heart with its horrors.