Saturday, 19 May 2018

I've Just Seen: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

 Director: John McNaughton

So many TV shows, films and, these days, podcasts are devoted to exploring the sensational lives and motivations of serial killers throughout history. We want to know why they killed, what they were thinking, what they were feeling when they killed the person. McNaughton's film doesn't offer any answers to these questions, and doesn't really ask them either. The film is a "portrait", but one that doesn't interrogate its subject, it simply observes wryly.

Michael Rooker is now most famous for his role in Guardians of the Galaxy, and part of me hopes that new fans of his go back and watch his back catalogue. As the titular Henry he is a frightening figure, one whose never explains his many, many kills - though he does provide a rather funny insight into his method. Henry does exhibit a bit of morality regarding Becky, though this is incredibly murky and it is likely he is only feeling attraction, not love. Rooker is great as Henry, leaving us deeply unsettled by the character, yet also giving him a charisma that draws you in.

The look of the film is rough, with grainy film stock and "natural" lighting. This is an ugly world populated by morally repugnant people. The unshowiness of the whole makes this feel realistic. This is a horror film that has no supernatural element, a scenario that could (and frighteningly, has) happened.

While not an easy watch, with an ending that leaves you thinking "Oh crap," it is a clever low-budget horror film. It lives up to its title as the portrait of a serial killer, while also defying the audiences' desire for closure. Why does Henry kill people? We, and likely he, can only guess.

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