Friday, May 25, 2012

The Young Poisoner's Handbook

Deny it all you want, but films about psychopaths and serial killers can be quite, well, interesting. Take Graham Young for example. Played by Hugh O'Conor as a downtrodden, spiteful nerd genius, Young was the product of a dysfunctional family and a chemistry whiz. If only, as my mother says, he had used his talents for good instead of evil.

     The Young Poisoner's Handbook, the 1995 debut full-length feature by British director Benjamin Ross, follows the "Teacup Killer" Young from the age of fourteen into his early adulthood. And what a fascinating character he is.

   All but incapable of identifying with the suffering of others, Young was both a racist and a psychopath. Later in his life, he laments that things turned out "all wrong" for him. As a boy, he poisons his none-too-bright schoolmate Mick (Jack Deam's) ham sandwich and makes him violently ill and takes over Mick's date.

   There are many good ironic and blackly comic moments in this otherwise dark and morbidly intriguing crime drama. The writer never tries too hard, which is the key. Hugh O'Conor was in a another, inferior film with dark comedy elements, Botched, which applied an over-the-top villain and manic pacing in order to achieve laughs.

     Take the date between Young and Sue (Samantha Edmonds), a girl who works in the London library, for instance. The scene where they pick up his fallen books is set up like a conventional romance, with them awkwardly meeting each other's eyes and Sue initiating a date.

    Then it knocks any "romantic" vibe on it's head, as Graham becomes increasingly inappropriate and morbid, soon bringing the date to an abrupt end. This isn't just teenage awkwardness. Something is just not going to the top floor.

   Hugh O'Conor is quite good, although he doesn't reach the brilliance as a sociopath of Noah Taylor in Simon Rumley's Red, White,& Blue. He is manipulative, wide-eyed, and sometimes strangely likable, and I can think of only one scene where his performance halted.

   I like the film's decision to meld disturbing and funny, like Tarantino, but without the constant f-bombs and gun play. Dated and oddly festive music is used, in order to provide irony and capture the flavor of 20th-century London. (The film starts out in the 1960's.) There are obvious picks about psychotics and anti-social behavior (The Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver, and The Shining to name a few.) And that's all well and good, but then there are movies like these, ripe for rediscovery. For the viewing of films isn't all about watching what your friends have watched, but rather, paving the way for new choices.


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