[Panic Fest] WHEN THE SCREAMING STARTS Review - A Gruesome and Delightful Mockumentary
When the Screaming Starts is a delightful British horror mockumentary directed by Conor Boru in his feature-length debut, co-written with Ed Hartland. The film follows two central characters, Aiden Mendle (Hartland), an aspiring serial killer, and Norman Graysmith (Jared Rogers), a documentary filmmaker who believes that Aiden is the perfect subject to establish himself as a series documentarian. With a robust cast of eccentric characters and humor reminiscent of horror-comedy staples like Shaun of the Dead (2004), it film boasts well-timed, laugh-out-loud moments --- particularly scenes featuring fishmonger Jack (Yasen Atour) and morbid photographer Claire (Kaitlin Reynell).
Aiden is a fumbling and socially awkward attention-seeker. He invites Norman to his home to document his attempts to gain notoriety as a serial killer. When his first attempt fails, he leads a Mansonesque family of other aspiring serial killers to achieve his goals. With his girlfriend Claire, he holds auditions to form The Family. This ensemble of colorful characters includes twins Viktoria (Vår Haugholt) and Veronika (Ronja Haugholt), Masoud (Kavé Niku), Amy (Octavia Gilmore), and Jack. The entire cast has impeccable comedic skills making each performance entertaining.
"I want to be remembered. My name is going to go down in history. Serial killers don’t get forgotten. No one remembers the victim."
While Aiden and his band of murderous misfits are the documentary's focus, Norman’s character evolution will captivate audiences. He excitedly stands by, watching and filming gruesome acts of violence and murder. There may be a social commentary about the desensitization of violence through a camera lens and its effects on human behavior. Still, I don’t believe the narrative intends to be that thought-provoking. Norman doesn’t recognize his culpability in the crimes he’s filming, transforming him into someone altogether unlikeable. Rogers gives a compelling and eerie performance as a man on a slow and fascinating descent into madness.
With a clever script from Boru and Hartland, Adrian Musto’s cinematography, and Alan Rae’s edits, When the Screaming Starts remains an engaging and entertaining experience from start to finish. The original music by Michael Palmer is magnificent, transitioning from playful to sinister as the film progresses. It opens strongly, but the well-timed humor gradually tapers off as the film comes to a close, and a string of final conflicts ensue. This tonal shift is clearly intended as the film’s horror elements gradually become more threatening and dramatic, with every detail working in perfect harmony. The twist is inevitable yet unexpected, and audiences will appreciate that the subtle hints don't spoil the film's finale.
Boru and Hartland have a little gem in When the Screaming Starts. I’ll look forward to the two collaborating in the future. I’m pretty interested to see what the pair do to follow this film. Those seeking a found-footage horror movie will undoubtedly be disappointed. It isn’t a found-footage film. Satirical as the film is, it’s wholesome murderous fun and serves as a cautionary reminder that any of us can be a killer.