J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Tribeca ’17: Psychopaths

They are sort of like the supernatural slasher version of sleeper cells. Convicted serial killer Henry Earl Starkweather claims his infernal soul has possessed hundreds of ordinary people, whom he has allowed to continue their everyday lives. However, his execution seems like the perfect opportunity to flip his own switch and let loose bloody chaos. Turns out old Henry Earl wasn’t kidding. He duly unleashes a night of terror in Mickey Keating’s Psychopaths, which premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Between the most idiosyncratic narrator since Sam Elliott’s Stranger in The Big Lebowski and Starkweather’s eerie gloating final interview, we learn the psycho’s spawn are indeed wreaking havoc, but a scarred contract killer wearing a plastic Archie mask is hunting the predators. Apparently, he has a personal grudge against Starkweather, so he is hellbent on cleansing the earth of his seed.

Keating focuses on four or five of these proxy killers. Presumably, the established “Midnight Strangler” is not one of them, because he has the misfortune of picking up Blondie, a stripper under Starkweather’s sway. There is also a corrupt cop out there adding to the body count, but the most distinctive killer has to be Alice, who fancies herself a glamorous tragedy queen from a 1950s Douglas Sirk film.

In terms of vibe and mise en scène, Psychopaths is Keating's most accomplished film yet, even surpassing the distinctive Darling. Visually it is absolutely arresting and some of the horror-action sequences are pretty mind-blowing. It is also a huge plus having the great Larry Fessenden periodically pop up to make heavy pronouncements as Starkweather. The problem is Psychopaths ends rather suddenly and inconclusively, like a film shoot that ran out of money. The only character arc Keating brings to a conclusion is Alice’s, which he wraps up rather unsatisfyingly.

Still, it would be wasteful of genre fans to focus on Psychopaths shortcomings instead of its merits. Keating induces such a dreamlike state throughout the film, viewers will literally stumble out on wobbly legs. It is a strange, raggedy film, but it has sinister potency. Perhaps Keating left so many psycho-puppets unaccounted for, because he intends to return to this world. If so, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Recommended for horror fans disinclined towards pedantry or tidiness, Psychopaths will definitely haunt the festival circuit after premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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