Dr. Eugene Branch, played with glorious zeal by the legendary Armand Assante, is a lunatic. Dr. Branch believed that certain DNA markers could be re-encoded, such as the DNA marker that gives an individual the desire to kill. That’s a solid scientific basis for research right there, but alas the good doctor had to cut off the tops of the various domes of his unsuspecting test subjects to get to their brains to initiate his research. Using humans as sacrificial test subjects for scientific research is generally against the law, unless of course you happen to be a Nazi doctor in the early 1940’s. It’s not the 1940’s and Dr. Branch has been on death row for the last fifteen years awaiting his just deserts, which will be a midnight meeting with the electric chair in a few days time. But here’s the thing. The good doctor has a teenage son floating around out there who is completely oblivious to the fact that this death row inmate is his biological father and the kid just may have the same murderous tendencies as his old man. Is Owen (Zachary Ray Sherman) a ‘Killer by Nature’? Or has the kind nurturing of his adoptive parents soothed the savage beast inside?
In most aspects Owen is an average kid. He’s bright, he’s popular in school, his parents Leona (Lin Shaye) and Walter (Richard Portnow) dote on him and he has a cute tease of girlfriend in Maggie (Hayley Hudson) who won’t give him any. Typical high school boy. Sure he has murderous dreams and tends to sleepwalk but who doesn’t do that? To help with the dreams and the sleepwalking he has been seeing his lovely psychiatrist Dr. Ramos (Svetlana Efremova) for years but with his condition apparently getting worse Dr. Ramos has called in Nature vs. Nurture expert Dr. Julian (Ron Perlman) to consult with her on Owens case.
Then the murders start happening. Worst still is that these murders are coinciding with Owen completely blacking out and experiencing more vivid, violent nightmares. Is Owen a sleepwalking murderer? It sure does look that way. Plus Owen’s violent tendencies seem to be manifesting themselves in his conscious self as well, like the time he slapped his tease of a girlfriend Maggie. Admittedly Maggie stealthily climbed in his bedroom window, snuck up behind him and grabbed his eyes which got her this much deserved whack across the grill, but still. Plus she didn’t give any after sneaking in his bedroom window way after dark. What’s up with that Maggie? Stop doing that.
The murders have intensified and have become mighty personal for poor Owen who is all but convinced he is doing these killings. Then through some external shenanigans he learns who his real father is which causes a young man, who has been steadily freaking out over the course of this film, to go totally ape-shit. But the question remains… is Owen continuing his father’s legacy or is some external force out there committing these heinous crimes?
‘Killer by Nature’, written and directed by Douglas S. Younglove, is problematic for me in the sense that it is one of those movies that didn’t move me in either a positive or a negative way. I watched it and then turned it off, a little perplexed how I’m going to formulate a semi-coherent opinion to deliver to you good people out there.
It’s not a bad movie by any means, the concept of nature vs. nurture is solid basis for this thriller and Younglove’s examination of it through his characters is good enough, plus Armand Assante in his limited role was electric as per usual. In fact the best thing about this film is probably the performances turned in by the veteran cast members and even younger actors Zachary Ray Sherman and Haley Hudson were solid. Zachary Ray did freak out and yell an awful lot and I probably wouldn’t have been mad at him if he brought it down a little bit, but I guess if you believe yourself to be a sleepwalking serial killer you’d freak out too.
As far as the mystery goes it seemed fairly obvious from the outset what was going on, though my son, who I watched this movie with, cursed me for ruining it for him. How the boy didn’t see this blatant setup is beyond me which is all the more reason that I need to have a DNA test done on him.
But while the mystery of this movie was crystal clear and the eventual conclusion was even clearer, I have no idea where conclusion number two came from. I mean it was really out there. A movie that already had some shaky footing in reality turned into something right out of the Twilight Zone.
But truthfully speaking the only real crime ‘Killer by Nature’ commits is that it’s average. Mediocre. It has a solid setup, some solid performances and few wacky bits here and there but the film just doesn’t do anything in particular to set itself apart in a positive or a negative way from the films that have come before it.