Director Mickey Keating has been a very busy man as of late, releasing four films in the span of two years, all of which draw influence from different facets of the horror. Some are more effective than others, but all bring a unique vision into the genre. His latest, Psychopaths, paints a kaleidoscopic tapestry of violence that marks the director’s first real foray into the abstract.
The film begins with a loose narrative involving a serial killer, played by the incomparable Larry Fessenden, being put to death and vowing to spread his evil into the world and create chaos across the land, and that’s just what he does. What proceeds is four slightly connected plotlines involving four sadistic killers, presented in non-linear chunks that mostly consist of stylized violence and carnage.
The film is stylish to be sure, with each sequence playing out like a wicked fever dream, accentuated with psychedelic backgrounds, plenty of music cues and over-the-top gore. Keating is well on his way to becoming a master of the lens, employing some insanely well composed shots and framing. The split-screen portions were an added bonus, a technique I’m generally not a fan of but one that worked well within the chaotic nature of the film.
The loose structure of Psychopaths will undoubtedly divide audiences, however, and often the pacing felt slightly off. Ashley Bell, a Keating regular, plays one of the four psychos, an escaped mental patient with multiple personalities and a penchant for glamour. She delivered a fantastic and effectively disturbing performance, but her scenes were far too drawn out. When viewing a film with a deliberately sporadic and disconnected plot such as this, there’s a possibility of boredom setting in, and unfortunately that was the case a few times here.
Keating described the film as a collage of violence and glamour, and that’s pretty much what you’re getting here – nothing more, nothing less. The four main psychopaths – the aforementioned dual-personality woman, a sadistic strangler (James Landry Hébert), a masked brute, played by Samuel D. Zimmerman (shoutouts to Shudder); and a femme fatale torturer played by Angela Trimbur – are all uniquely creepy in their own way, with each person’s segments carrying a separate visual style.
By and large, Psychopaths follows Keating’s previous MO of drawing heavy influence from horror films of the ’70s and ’80s, but other than the great opening and closing titles and a few visual flourishes here and there, the film feels contemporary and doesn’t lean very heavily on nostalgia. The film itself doesn’t follow any conventions of time, mixing VHS tapes; ’70s decor; and sleazy, modern motifs, with the southern-tongued narrator exclaiming at the beginning of the film that there would be no specific time or place for this chaos.
I appreciate what Psychopaths is going for, and I believe Mickey Keating is still a director to watch when it comes to unique horror offerings, but there just wasn’t enough here to hold my interest. Much of it felt like a demo reel containing lots of violence but very little substance to back it up.