Sometimes there’s an air of promise to a film’s opening scenes that rather quickly becomes betrayed. The set-up for Psychotic! is promising, offering us a slasher scenario shown from a first person perspective at a birthday party, a perspective that is only comedically enhanced by a character speaking directly to the killer without realizing that he doesn’t belong. It’s a goofy, somewhat clever way to open a horror farce, but the unfortunate fact of the matter is that writers, directors, and stars Maxwell Frey and Derek Gibbons are way out of their depth, offering something that is neither viscerally exciting nor sufficiently witty to justify its existence.
The loose plot structure of Psychotic! follows a pair of roommates on disparate journeys. Tim (Frey) is an obsessive “romantic” who lusts over a woman he likes and ends up window-peeping on another, while Stuart (Gibbons) is an auteur musician who feels consistently undermined by the people he plays with, finding respite only in flirting with a mysterious woman who seems averse to having her picture taken. This is all set against a backdrop of Bushwick, Brooklyn hipsterism, where everyone is aware that a serial killer is on the loose but they’re too busy getting high and partying to pay the problem much attention.
There are two ways one could reasonably understand Psychotic!‘s tone, which is a big part of why the film doesn’t work. The first way is to assume that our cast of party animal characters is meant to be our empathetic lens through which we experience Bushwick life and the ways in which this serial killer’s presence have warped any sense of normalcy. The main problem with that reading is that just about every character is a self-centered asshole, driven by their ids to constantly annoy and belittle one another—not to mention treat women as sex objects—at every opportunity.
The other way to potentially read the film is that this is meant to be a takedown of Bushwick culture, with our characters acting as irredeemable stand-ins for real-life archetypes so that we cheer on when the killer removes them from this mortal coil. However, if that’s the case, the amount of time we spend with these jerks is vastly disproportionate to the catharsis of their demises. It doesn’t help that Frey and Gibbons have zero sense of comedic timing, nor that they direct themselves and their actors to deliver lines with completely unbelievable inflection. It makes nearly every scene a tired, drawn out exercise of spotting where the joke probably was supposed to be and retroactively piecing together why the execution fell so flat.
When we finally get to the killing, there are admittedly some fun moments of inspiration. A moment when a woman gets her fingers cut off is laugh-out-loud silly, and a setpiece where a stoner is stabbed and forced to inhale his bong smoke through his new orifice feels like it belongs in a better movie. However, the long stretches of actionless tedium that comprise the majority of Psychotic! drag the entire rest of the experience down. It doesn’t matter whether Frey and Gibbons intended this to be straight-faced with occasional comic relief or satirically farcical throughout, because the fact that it’s impossible to tell is the biggest strike against it. If a kill compilation shows up on YouTube one day, maybe give that a look, but don’t subject yourself to 80 minutes of inanity just to see five inspired minutes at the beginning and one cool minute toward the end. We’ve all got better things to do with our lives.