“Wayne taped, photographed and recorded everything.” There you go. A thorough way to explain away all that found footage.
But let’s be fair here: while the found footage genre occupies a dank basement when it comes to how we rank our genres Head Cases: Serial Killers in the Delaware Valley is pretty damn-well made.
The film, channeling Dateline NBC and 48 Hours mysteries, luckily doesn’t channel anything else (supernatural being our second least favorite genre). It puts us up close and personal with serial killer Wayne Montgomery, his accomplice jailbird wife (“I knew he killed before and it didn’t bother me”) and his on-the-lam stepson.
We get backstory aplenty: the notorious 41-time serial killer had a mom who gave birth to him at the exact reverse of that number. He gets into the multiple killing game through an affair with the married “Andrea,” encouraging the woman to off her abusive husband, an heir to a local steel magnate.
To their credit, the filmmakers painstakingly used era-appropriate recording devices. Also, the tales of torture and abuse come with solecisms and other natural vocal ticks, accompanied by childhood photographs and video of the actors. This really added to the authenticity. The only real slip up: the crow-barring in of the fictional found footage, into a documentary that’s taken the world by storm! You guessed it, Headcases.
There’s also that old saw, if you’ll pardon the half-pun, of serial killers being predisposed to abusing animals as kids and then “graduating” to humans. As an article in Psychology Today put it, that homicidal triad of childhood bedwetting, fire-setting and animal cruelty likely represent three, among many, indicators of severe childhood abuse. No one of these alone can be used to predict serial killing behaviour. Stands to reason: the vast majority of animal abusers don’t become serial killers.
But we digress. It all adds to the mystique in the end (Wayne’s first murder, age 11, involved a china plate and a babysitter in a creepy detail). Good performances all around as well.
They do a lot, with very little. While we frown on found footage, in capable hands there’s a lot that can be done.
***1/2 (out of 5).
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