When the Screaming Starts - Review
The next Charles Manson gets a mockumentary.
When the Screaming Starts is now streaming on ScreamBox.
Conor Boru's merciless mockumentary When the Screaming Starts exists at the intersection of Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and What We Do in the Shadows. Shades of faux documentaries about serial killers like Man Bites Dog influence Boru and co-writer Ed Hartland's screenplay about England’s next infamous serial killer family, even if the cinematography sometimes fails to maintain first-person camera rules. There's humor and satire galore in this jokey slasher ride-along, whether that's an amateur journalist profiting off innocent deaths or the allure behind becoming the next Charles Manson. Murderer-in-the-making performances are sneakily strong, Boru's assessments of modern get-famous-quick culture biting, and massacres are a right genre rollick. If you don't yet own a subscription to ScreamBox, the horror streaming service that acquired When the Screaming Starts, this is a standout point of entry.
Hartland stars as ex-death metal guitarist, current cinema usher, and hopeful true-crime icon Aidan, the subject of investigative journalist Norman's (Jared Rogers) groundbreaking documentary. Their agreement is mutually beneficial — Norman airs never-before-seen murder footage, and Aidan raises his wanted level from one to five stars overnight. Everything gravitates around the glorification of immorality, even Aidan's girlfriend, Claire (Kaitlin Reynell), who keeps a "Scrapbook of the Dead" filled with original photography of corpses (the fresher, the better). No, there's no semblance of reality to craven occurrences — hence the mockumentary designation. Boru cheekily addresses professional dilemmas of a knives-out occupation, as Aidan's haplessness becomes apparent and his knockoff Manson Family quickly sniffs out their false leader.
What We Do in the Shadows comparisons range from clueless interview asides to fish-out-of-water dynamics (serial killers doing no-killer activities), to zany disciples sharing colorful backstories. Jack (Yasen Atour) is an ex-con meat and seafood vendor who operates out of a poles-and-plastic street stall. Masoud (Kavé Niku) is a foreign yogi with a language barrier who accidentally joins Aidan's cult because he thinks it's another yoga retreat. Aidan's determination to outshine Jeffrey Dahmer is equaled by his cowardice and inability to murder anything (besides a neighbor's cat, on accident). When the Screaming Starts pits those who talk with blustery confidence against others who actually walk promised walks as frustrations within Aidan's commune thicken.
Character rivalries keep more basic themes of celebrity worship culture from deflating behind violent assassination sequences.
At the center of Aidan's conflicts is Amy (Octavia Gilmore), the poster child of "Gothic Troublemaker" who immediately challenges Aidan for leadership dominance. Behind her black lipstick, webby clothing with matching choker, and sinister smirk resides chilling unpredictability, made evident when she tours us through her cluttered manor of occult delicacies and bound ex-schoolteachers she torments for pleasure. Amy meshes well with oppressed bored-by-country-lifestyle twins Viktoria (Vår Haugholt) and Veronica (Ronja Haugholt), played like The Shining girlies grew up and chose Aidan's maniacal clan as their Rumspringa. Norman's all-seeing perspective contrasts Aidan's blind awareness against Amy's clear and present mutiny. There's a pitiful aspect to Aidan's desperation to be famously acknowledged and how he's so miserably positioned to fail while Amy looms in the wings (glaring at the camera with confident recognition).
When the screaming eventually starts, and crimson rivers flow, character rivalries keep more basic themes of celebrity worship culture from deflating behind violent assassination sequences. Norman and Aidan's relationship as Aidan becomes less valuable to the documentary, the team, and even his dagger-eyed lover sustains a tension that could explode on either end like a pull-apart Christmas popper. Boru might depend on comedy throughout When the Screaming Starts — which somehow keeps us snickering despite the story's somewhat predictable direction — but that doesn't downplay the sinister vibes in motion. Aidan may be the self-described "brain" behind killing sprees, shooting his "bullets" (what he calls his minions), but those bullets still cause plentiful harm. Octavia Gilmore's cold-to-the-world portrayal of Amy stirs chaos that Hartland's misguided Aidan cannot control, a delight for us to behold.
Although, there's one huge red flag that persists as When the Screaming Starts gets deeper into its production. When adopting found-footage or documentary subgenres, there are distinct camera rules that express why the footage is rolling and who is behind the lens. Boru forgets this rule as a single cameraman accompanies Norman, yet heated exchanges between Norman and Amy during the mock-doc’s third act contain a flurry of cuts to reveal reactions between the two arguers. Beyond nitpicks of gags that don't land and the extreme tonal emphasis on laughter over slaughter that does whimper once or twice, my biggest gripe is about forgetting the medium you've chosen as a filmmaker.
When the Screaming Starts is a comedy-horror mockumentary about an inept, aspiring murderer at the beginning of his "career" and a fledgling filmmaker willing to do anything to achieve his ambition. Aidan Mendle has a dream; he aspires to be an infamous serial killer. When struggling journalist Norman is invited to follow Aidan on his journey, he believes he finally has landed his big break. But as Aidan and his newly recruited murder cult embark on a blood-soaked rampage, will Norman’s dream of becoming a renowned filmmaker turn into a nightmare?