Studio: Glass Eye Pix
Director: Mickey Keating
Writer: Mickey Keating
Producer: Cam McLellan, Al Lewison, Jenn Wexler, William Day Frank, Mickey Keating
Stars: Ashley Bell, James Landry Hebert, Mark Kassen, Angela Timbur, Ivana Shein, Larry Fessenden, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Jeremy Gardner, Samuel D. Zimmerman
The paths of several murderous psychopaths intersect in Los Angeles in the wake of an enigmatic serial killer’s execution.
Many conversations about filmmaker Mickey Keating involve his prolificacy, relative youth, and fearlessness to tackle a new subgenre on every outing. Only in his mid-twenties, Keating released five features in four years. Keating’s accomplishment is made more astonishing by the fact that his films have premiered at prestigious festivals including Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and continue attracting talented actors and artists anxious to collaborate with the independent scene’s rising star.
Yet for all the accolades he has earned, what good is this attention doing when the movies produced are growing increasingly incongruous and alienating? It’s an incredible achievement to go from first day of shooting to a world premiere stage in just 365 days, which was the case for “Pod” (review here). But how far should Keating’s means be praised when the result of that “rush, rush, rush” workmanship isn’t a carefully composed piece, but a slapdash shoulder shrug of “I hope this works” artistry?
I’d rather see Keating spend a full year or more thoughtfully developing a single, significant project before putting people in front of a camera. Instead, impulsive instincts are playing Keystone Kops as they bash headfirst into mishmashed styles, which is absolutely the case with the meandering meaninglessness of “Psychopaths.”
“Psychopaths” is supposedly set in Los Angeles, although you’d never know that to look at it, since much of the movie appears as though it was shot in a closet. Backgrounds are often plain black nothingness or a curtain hoisted against a wall. The feeling is less one of claustrophobic confinement or chic simplicity and more a mood of economic frugality.
“Psychopaths” is also supposedly inspired loosely by the crimes and cult of Charles Manson. You’d never know that by looking at the movie either. Because as crazy as the Manson Family was, even their rantings and ravings were more coherent than anything “Psychopaths” has to say.
Prior to his execution, notorious serial killer Henry Earl Starkweather gives a Geraldo-style interview in which he promises that a night of chaos is coming. Through some unknown influence, Starkweather’s threat comes to fruition when various events coincide to put several psychopaths on crisscrossing paths of bloody brutality and stream of consciousness soliloquies.
Essentially, “Psychopaths” is an anthology. Except instead of short stories, the film intertwines senseless vignettes. Keating cares more about style than he does about storytelling, evidenced by giddy urges to toss techniques on the screen without having narrative needs in mind.
“Psychopaths” uses voiceover narration for bridges and bookends. Keating doesn’t seem to consider that the point of a narrator is to convey information that cannot be delivered organically through onscreen events or interactions. “Psychopath’s” narrator is instead one more forced element that doesn’t fit, spouting the same kind of cryptic claptrap consuming character dialogue.
Similarly perplexing is Keating’s insistence on shoehorning Brian De Palma split-screens. De Palma famously popularized this trick when he needed two pieces of information delivered at once, or there were simultaneous beats of action for an audience to choose from.
“Psychopaths” employs split-screen to show one person attacked while another is oblivious to the commotion. Its use is to literally show nothing happening in the second frame. The right thing to do is to insert a single second cut of the other person’s inactivity. Using split-screen to put different tempos in conflict, while doubling as a transition that starts a second segment, is at best a misappropriation, and at worst a misunderstanding of the technique’s intended function.
Audio obnoxiously mutes or muffles foreground sounds in favor of amplifying background noises like crickets or other nonsense. Whole scenes feature mouths moving while music echoes annoyingly as if output speakers are underwater. This stab at accentuating dreaminess backfires into an underscore of how unimportant the audio really is. Spoken words are so inconsequential, it doesn’t matter to the movie if the audience even hears them.
“Psychopaths” drinks its own Kool-Aid, getting lost in disjointed distractions like people speaking directly into the lens or Ashley Bell weirdly embodying Liza Minelli under the pretense of having artistic appeal. (Although a Minelli biopic would be foolish to not put Bell at the top of its casting wish list after the audition she nails here.)
The cast and cameos overflow with actors and filmmakers from the circles Keating orbits, starting with Larry Fessenden and running through Jeremy Gardner, Matt Mercer, Josh Ethier, Graham Skipper, and more. Shudder curator and former Fangoria writer Sam Zimmerman even earns a cute “and introducing” credit, despite appearances elsewhere, including a speaking part in “The Mind’s Eye” (review here).
The takeaway is that Mickey Keating appears motivated more by throwing something together with his running buddies than in making a serious statement. That’s an approach I expect from a microbudget nobody with a friends and family crew in his/her backyard. It’s disappointing when it comes from a critical darling hailed as an up-and-coming auteur.
Speaking of “Darling” (review here), a drably dull Keating film, I would rather watch that again than endure a second sitting of “Psychopaths,” and that’s really saying something. At least the Jackson Pollock splatter of that movie was self-contained to an insular focus. “Psychopaths” explodes its ambiguity outward, making a greater mess out of itself in the process.
Review Score: 40