By George Bate and Julie Catherine
Take What We Do in the Shadows, throw in some American Psycho and a true crime documentary like The Jinx, and top it all off with a delightfully original, high-concept premise and you have When the Screaming Starts.
When the Screaming Starts is a dark comedy, horror mockumentary from director Conor Boru that demands viewing for its sheer originality, pitch black sense of humor, and poignant commentary on true crime obsessives. The film follows documentarian Norman (played by Jared Rogers, who also produces the film) as he tries to put a new spin on the over-populated true crime genre. Norman begins to film and follow Aidan (played by Ed Hartland, who also co-writes the film), an aspiring serial killer and Charles Manson wannabe whose disturbing interests and (somehow) endearing nature lead to a series of unexpected events.
It’s abundantly clear very early on that When the Screaming Starts is an unusual watch, to say the least. Its high concept premise of a documentarian making a film about an aspiring serial killer is certainly out there and requires some initial suspension of disbelief. If disbelief can be suspended, When the Screaming Starts is undoubtedly a wild and entertaining ride. Stylistically, the film is akin to What We Do in the Shadows. Cut-away interviews, telling looks at the camera, and the one-man filming team make When the Screaming Starts feel like a spiritual sibling to What We Do in the Shadows. Admittedly the two are conceptually quite divergent, but there’s a sense of “These two films could plausibly exist in the same universe” that is quite palpable. All this is to say, fans of What We Do in the Shadows will absolutely love how the filmmakers behind When the Screaming Starts adopt fundamentals of that vampire mockumentary in making their serial killer mockumentary.
At the heart of the film is Aidan, a twisted and disturbed former metal guitarist and movie theater employee, whose dark aspirations become the focus of Norman’s documentary. As Aidan gets the attention of a film crew to chronicle his rise to Charles Manson status, Norman is on the brink of cutting edge filmmaking – helming a true crime documentary before the murders have even occurred. The purposeful and clever fusion of the film’s contrasting tones is best exemplified by the state of Aidan’s character throughout. Aidan is mild mannered, friendly, naive, and almost endearing – an immediately likable main character. This is in stark contrast, however, to his array of dark interests. Aidan’s girlfriend Claire (played by Kaitlin Reynell) is obsessed with death and murder. Aidan and Claire soon begin to recruit members for their version of the Manson Family, a group of like-minded death obsessives who come together to share in the delights of their shared passion for murder. It’s a testament to the filmmakers and actors that When the Screaming Starts captures such an odd coupling of two disparate tones. In a manner not dissimilar from American Psycho, there are laugh out loud moments here that make you turn inward and question your own sanity. “Did I just laugh at that?” “Was that so disturbing it was funny?” When the Screaming Starts certainly leans more into its humorous side than its horror roots, but the gravity of its dark subject matter makes the experience feel so unique.
A film like this simply doesn’t work without a cast to deliver the story beats, jokes, and, most importantly, tone. Thankfully, When the Screaming Starts sports a stellar ensemble cast from top to bottom. Jared Rogers’ Norman would typically be the audience’s point of view in a film like this. Norman is the outsider looking in on the deeds of Aidan and his Manson family. However, it becomes clear Norman is not the audience as his own dark interests bubble to the surface. Relatively speaking, Norman doesn’t have that many lines and the story doesn’t begin with him as the focus whatsoever. But Rogers makes Norman’s presence known and felt. Even slight glances to the camera or changes in the tone of his voice convey so much about who this character really is.
Rounding out Aidan’s family of murderers are Amy (played by Octavia Gilmore), Jack (played by Yasen Atour), the twins Veronika and Viktoria (played by Ronja and Vår Haugholt), and Masoud (played by Kavé Niku). Each has their role to play in the unfolding of events, but it is Gilmore’s character Amy who really adds a different angle to the film upon her introduction. Yasen Atour has some great one-liners as the dim-witted Jack (who not so cleverly introduces his friend Terry to his murder family). A running gag featuring Aidan’s unending misinterpretation of Kavé Niku’s Masoud works surprisingly well. And Kaitlin Reynell’s performance as Aidan’s girlfriend Claire is equal parts hilarious and unnerving.
Without revealing too much about the plot, When the Screaming Starts also has something poignant to say about true crime documentarians and the morally questionable interests that drive true crime obsessives. Especially in light of the recent and controversial release of Netflix’s Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, When the Screaming Starts is particularly relevant in its social commentary.
When the Screaming Starts is a movie that mere descriptions can’t give justice to. Its raw originality and high-concept premise demand to be seen to be believed. This strange combination of What We Do in the Shadows and American Psycho works as a witty comedy and a horror film fused with disturbing social commentary. Brought to life by a fantastic ensemble cast, When the Screaming Starts wonderfully tackles a difficult balance of conflicting tones to deliver a viewing experience unlike any other.
When the Screaming Starts is now streaming on Screambox.