When The Screaming Starts

When The Screaming Starts (2021)

When The Screaming Starts first published by VODzilla.co

“I’m Norman Graybridge. A two-time award-winning documentary filmmaker. I’ve achieved great success in unearthing groundbreaking stories in people living on the fringes of society. So when I stumbled upon Aidan Mendle in the darker recesses of the internet, and learned of his twisted dream, I knew I’d found the subject for my next story.”

Norman (Jared Rogers) certainly has ambitions, although his reality tells a different story. For at the beginning of When The Screaming Starts, he is delivering these words to camera from his caravan home, and the visible certificate for one of his vaunted awards shows that he was in fact runner up at a minor festival. In this respect he is perfectly matched with his latest subject, Aidan (played by the film’s co-writer Ed Hartland). Aidan’s ‘twisted dream’ is to go from being a low-level cinema usher to a notorious serial killer – while Norman’s is “the chance to see a serial killer’s legend unfolding” – and so these two rather pathetic men enter a peculiar alliance of co-dependency, with either one regarding the other as his meal ticket in what is a parasitic relationship between amateurs biting off more than they can chew. Aidan talks the talk to camera, but it is less than clear that he can walk the walk. Certainly his ghoulish girlfriend Claire (Kaitlin Reynell) hopes that Aidan can live up to his bluster, and she might even finally agree to have sex with him if he manages actually to kill someone – but Aidan seems keener on gathering a Manson-esque ‘family’ around him, and sending them to do his dirty work.

After The X Factor-style auditions (including interviews with the hopefuls), Aidan and Claire recruit privileged psychopath Amy (Octavia Gilmore), ex-con fishmonger Jack (Yasen Atour), good-time twins Veronika and Viktoria (Ronja and Vår Haugholt) and confused Masoud (Kavé Niku) – who speaks little English and thinks he is joining a yoga group. Still, in one night, this motley crew really does perpetrate a home-invasion massacre under Amy’s lead, and Aidan, who was absent from the outrage, finds himself sidelined – as do Norman and his camera crew, no longer welcome in Amy’s company. So Aidan and Norman, who share both a hunger for celebrity and an egotistical disdain for those helping them attain it, find themselves once again alone and desperate to regain their centre.

With its openly absurd premise that a murderer would allow documentarians to record his exploits, actor Conor Baru’s mockumentary feature debut as director and co-writer starts off covering similar ground to Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde‘s Man Bites Dog (1992), Julian RichardsThe Last Horror Movie (2003) and Scott Glosserman’s Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006). For here, as in those films, the mundane schlubbiness of the (would-be) killer allows his premeditated, postponed evil to be exposed for all its comic banality, while the filmmaker’s complicity, even active participation, in what he documents is also gradually revealed. 

Yet as in Cody Calahan’s Vicious Fun (2020), once all these trainee serial killers – with their marked differences in class, race, gender and murder methodology – have assembled, wild chaos ensues, ensuring that events are unpredictable to the bitter end. When The Screaming Starts is a funny, bloody and ultimately cynical look at the ‘sexiness’ of slaughter and the anonymity of victimhood. Given that all the film’s visual materials purport to be the camera crew’s footage – variously found and unfound, and punctuated by the occasional sensational TV news report – here the medium is very much the message, with our own captivated immersion as viewers part of what fuels this narrative of filmed fame. If celebrity serial killers are made not born, then we, in our thirst for shock-horror true-crime stories, help make them. It is a confronting moral from a film which, though always preposterously light in tone, lets no one off the hook easily.

strap: Conor Baru’s feature debut is a serial-killing mockumentary comedy that makes the medium part of the message

© Anton Bitel