'Psychopaths': Film Review | Tribeca 2017

Psychopaths- Still 1- Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
All gory style, no substance.

The vengeful spirit of an executed serial killer inspires a night of murderous mayhem in the new horror film by Mickey Keating.

Toward the end of Mickey Keating’s latest horror film, the narrator apologizes “if the violence was too gratuitous and the story was too ambiguous.” It’s a kind enough gesture, really, even if it threatens to make the role of film critic superfluous. Nonetheless, it comes as too little, too late for Psychopaths, receiving its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.  

Keating — a rising star in the indie horror film world thanks to such cult favorites as Carnage Park and Darling — goes for broke here. The pic doesn’t so much feature a narrative as a series of horrific scenes of violence and brutality, like a musical composed entirely of song-and-dance numbers. The results are striking, thanks to the filmmaker’s stylistic expertise, obvious love of the milieu as demonstrated by the myriad influences on display and the very cool, retro ‘70s vibe that will make viewers of a certain age nostalgic for the grindhouse-attending days of their youth.

The story, such as it is, concerns the horrific mayhem that occurs after the execution of a serial killer, Henry Earl Starkweather (the name is an obvious reference to Charlie Starkweather, the young killer whose ‘50s murder spree inspired the Terrence Malick film Badlands). He’s played by Larry Fessenden, a genre stalwart who also serves as the film’s executive producer.

Before his execution, Starkweather announces that his death will unleash a wave of violent chaos across the land, and damn if he isn’t right. Among those perpetrating the savagery are a strangler (James Landry Hebert); a psycho killer (Sam Zimmerman) who seems to have an endless supply of grotesque masks; Alice (Ashley Bell of The Last Exorcism), an escaped mental patient who imagines that she’s living in a 1950s fantasy world; Blondie (Angela Trimbur), a would-be victim who turns out to be more than a sadistic match for her attacker; and a sleazy cop (Jeremy Gardner) who looks like he just stepped out of a vintage porn movie.

Keating doesn’t shy away from adding baroque touches to the carnage, such as having a killer violently blow his nose on someone he’s just beaten to death. There’s also no denying the gory stylishness of the proceedings, which are edited in arrestingly hallucinatory fashion. The filmmaker pulls out all the technical stops, including split-screens, various lighting schemes, old-fashioned camera wipes … you name it. The off-kilter, disturbing sound mixing further adds to the disquieting effect.

Ultimately, however, it all feels more than a little repetitive and, despite the escalating bloodshed, deadly dull. Keating fails to effectively transmit his love of pushing the horror genre to new heights, with the result that we feel less gleefully complicit than merely voyeuristic. This is a case in which less would definitely have been more.  

Production companies: Glass Eye Pix, High Window Films, Sorrows Entertainment
Cast: Ashley Bell, James Landry Hebert, Mark Kassen, Angela Trimbur, Ivana Shein, Sam Zimmerman, Jeremy Gardner, Helen Rogers
Director-screenwriter: Mickey Keating
Producers: Jenn Wexler, Will Frank, Mickey Keating, Cam McLellan, Al Lewison
Executive producer: Larry Fessenden
Director of photography: Mac Fisken
Production designer: Angel Herrera
Editor: Valerie Krulfeifer
Costume designer: Samantha Hawkins
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Midnight)

85 minutes