‘Killer by Nature’ asks whether violence can be hereditary

Armand Assante and Zachary Ray Sherman in 'Killer by Nature' — Photo courtesy of MTI

Killer by Nature, the silly new movie from writer-director Douglas S. Younglove, starts off like a really good Criminal Minds episode. Owen Whitmore (Zachary Ray Sherman) sleepwalks in the middle of the night and has horrible visions of gruesome murder scenes. His complicated problems are above the pay grade for his therapist (Svetlana Efremova), so she employs the help of a world-renowned sleep specialist by the name of Dr. Jonas Julian (Ron Perlman). Jonas digs deep into Owen’s psyche to figure out what could be troubling the teenager.

The terrifying aspect of Owen’s case is that the people around him start turning up dead — killed, in fact, in the same manner that’s detailed in the young man’s dreams. Now it’s a race agains the clock to figure what’s going on before Owen’s sleepwalking takes its next victim.

There’s also a subplot involving Eugene Branch (Armand Assante), a horrific murderer waiting on death row for his final judgment. Just about everything involving Eugene’s story is steeped in cliche. All of these scenes we’ve seen before on the silver screen: the emotional conversations around a prison window, the crowds of protestors outside the prison’s walls, the last-minute waiting for a call from the governor. Even more cliche (and predictable) is how Owen’s and Eugene’s stories are connected.

What starts out as a smart thriller eventually devolves into a twisted maze of ridiculous occurrences. The characters that Younglove builds up for most of the movie are torn down by contrivance after contrivance. The finale is so inevitable and expected, I’m surprised it didn’t take place on the roof of a skyscraper (like so many of these ending scenes do).

The acting for the direct-to-DVD release is quite good. Assante and Perlman completely buy into their characters, and they are believable and hauntingly creepy. Sherman was probably not the best choice for the anchoring role, but he does well with a difficult part. Lin Shaye, of There’s Something About Mary fame, is her usual excellent self.

Thankfully, the movie doesn’t get too gruesome. It may looked like a horror thriller, but Killer by Nature is fairly tame entertainment. It tries (perhaps a little too hard) to look into the cause of violent crimes. On its path to finding an answer, it falls flat, but at least it tried to add some introspection to a genre woefully in need of some psychiatric thought.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Killer by Nature

  • 2010

  • Written and directed by Douglas S. Younglove

  • Starring Ron Perlman, Armand Assante, Zachary Ray Sherman, Lin Shaye and Svetlana Efremova

  • Running time: 90 minutes

  • Not Rated

  • Rating: ★½☆☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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