Would-be screenwriter Seth (Coley Bryant), a monied guy whose haircut probably accounted for half of this film’s $900 budget, spitballs ideas for a movie about a string of unsolved murders in a small town – though he has some concerns that the ongoing nature of the crimes means it’ll be hard to deliver a satisfying ending. Has he ever seen The Town That Dreaded Sundown? In the writers’ room with him are Holly (Casey Dillard), a true crime author, and Mark (Glenn Payne), who’s going to be the photographer and tends to get talked over by the writing professionals. Since Mark is also the killer, the self-involved Seth and Holly – who clash over Seth’s commercial instincts to make a slasher movie with tits and Holly’s attempts to keep the project grounded in actuality – probably ought to listen more closely to his ideas and insights.
For the most part, Killer Concept is a dialogue-driven comedy about the creative process with a few footnotes about murder. Much of it is icily delicious – as when Mark’s admission that all the victims look like his mother is ignored because Holly makes a connection that hasn’t occurred to the actual murderer, that all the dead women have flower-based names – and it has a feel for the frustrations of a communal creative project with no clear end in sight. Payne, who also directs, and Dillard, who also writes, made the interesting Driven, which got out on the road – here, they stay close to home in every sense, and the fact that the credited screenwriter devised the story while the cast improvised the actual talk makes for a possibly revealing watch.
It’s an irony, of course, that the obnoxious Seth – who wants the screen murderer to be a Patrick Bateman-type smoothie in his own image – isn’t the killer while the seemingly more sensitive Mark is. Unlike most real serial killers, Mark is through with his crimes and content to have conversations with the severed body parts in his fridge … until the frustrations of the development process prompt him to get into his creepy orange hoodie and stalk again. It’s a shock for him that Holly, in her empathy with the victims (she too has a plant name), easily dismisses whatever pain the killer feels as irrelevant. That’s the point when the audience gets past the murderer’s apparent mild manner and sees him as frightening. Though it has well-staged nighttime suspense scenes and a face-off climax where someone has to choose which of the other two to trust, this is mostly an unfussy, low-key drama with theatre-like depth of character.