When the Screaming Starts
10 Sep 2021
Conor Boru, Ed Hartland
Ed Hartland, Jared Rogers, Kaitlin Reynell
Mockumentary slasher makes a mockery of mockumentaries and slashers / When the Screaming Starts, which is When the Film Starts / Louis Theroux: A Place For Serial Killers. I would happily spend all day delivering review-one liners, but for this piece let’s look into question they beg— what do mockumentaries, slashers and Louis Theroux have to do with a single movie?
The first word defines the documentary team led by Norman (Jared Rogers), who moves into the home of Aden, an aspiring serial killer, believing it to be some kind of documentary filmmaking first. Aden’s gothishly intense girlfriend Claire encourages him to commit his first murder, but he’s a bit of a wimp. This establishes the film’s attempt at mining comedy out of the gulf between mundanity and extremism, attempt unfortunately being the operative word. The jokes never leave the ground.
As its central gag When the Screaming Starts parodies Louis Theroux with Norman—dressing Jared Rogers up as Britain’s bespectacled national treasure, only with rubbish hair and additional pieces to camera. Indeed, director Conor Boru seems to have made his film after asking himself “What if Louis went too far?”. Except I could never suspend my disbelief that a documentary crew would record serial killers committing mass murder, unlike Taika Waititi’s similarly premised What We Do in the Shadows, in which a documentary crew records the lives of a house of Wellington vampires. Waititi engages in world-building to create a comical, vaguely fantastic alternate New Zealand, while heavily stressing the “mock” in mockumentary.
The confused tone here stems from the decision to open with a series of realistic newscasts reporting a dinner party massacre. You can’t explicitly place events in reality and proceed to make something so utterly nonsensical. As a result of its failure to fully commit to parody, there are plot holes everywhere. Who is the cameraman acquiescing to Norman’s madness by filming everything? Doesn’t that make everyone involved complicit in the grievous crimes they’re documenting? Why does nobody call the police at the dinner party when the murdering starts taking place? And speaking of newscasts in horror comedies, Shaun of the Dead is inspired in its usage of them to create a sense of dread. All they do is work against When the Screaming Starts when it becomes a scare-free slasher.
But surprising as it may be, there is a positive recommendation to make after this. If you want a thematic, sometimes funny, often bleak, and always human watch this week, stick on one of Louis Theroux’s inimitable documentaries instead. Stories nobody else tells and nobody else could.