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Ben Nagy reviews ‘American Killing’: A Showrunner’s Life Collapses and People Die

Jeb, a weirdbeard showrunner for an animated kids cartoon about a girl and some aliens, descends into a homicidal rampage in American Killing and takes his writing crew with him.

Looking to breathe new life into an animated show with a writers’ retreat to a cabin, a deranged supervisor instead brings death (but you gotta wait about 50 minutes for it)

This week’s flick is called American Killing about Jeb (Trevor Peterson), a weirdbeard showrunner for an animated kids show called Amy and the Alien. Season Three did not go well for Jeb and his writing crew, so he’s been given one last chance by the executives to round his people up and motivate them to come up with a riveting rebound season or he’s out of there.

Ben Nagy reviews 'American Killing': A Showrunner's Life Collapses and People Die 13
Jeb (Trevor Peterson) points a gun at Raven (Persia White) toward the tail end of American Killing. (Photo courtesy High Octane Pictures)

Jeb’s a pretty odd duck — nebbish, paranoid, passive aggressive, manipulative and oh yeah, he plants cameras all over the cabin where this show writers’ retreat is going on. All the better for him to spy on his co-workers with the ton of surveillance equipment in the back of the ambulance he drives around (think the creep level of Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler).

The rest of the writing group consists of Clark, a guy with family problems who has an association with Jeb; Joan, the older, steady and focused professional; Natalie, the voice of Amy who got the job because she’s the daughter of the producer; Billy, who has a job because he’s the boyfriend of the daughter of the producer; and Raven, a young adult author who has been brought in to breathe some new, edgy life into the show.

There are some awkward dynamics, Jeb’s management style ranges from authoritarian to inept to Scooby-Doo: “I was thinking we could buddy up today.” He has pictures of Raven in lingerie on his laptop and those are open when he sits next to her during a morning meeting. Not the best way to establish a working relationship.

He also rubs the wrong person (Natalie) the wrong way and she narcs on Jeb twice, based on that he criticized her scriptwriting ability, manipulated Clark and fought with Billy rather than the fact that he admitted he took speed and had a creepy monologue about the BTK killer. But that just might have played into it a little bit.

Yeah, Jeb gets canned.

But what did we learn from Norman Bates? All good psychos go back to mother for advice. Jeb drives back to his childhood home, almost gets shot by mom after he breaks in and then she tells him “Wal-Mart is hiring.” With such support and encouragement for his creative endeavors, it’s no wonder he snaps just minutes later in the flick, which leads to…

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  • Best Creep With a Camera: Jeb entraps his co-workers for starters, ruins Clark’s marriage out of spite, holds a grudge like no one else, and in addition to having that sociopathic Nightcrawler tendency, his character also reminds me of Klaus Kinski in Crawlspace (but not as manic) with a dash of the Baldwin brother from Sliver because of all his techno-voyeurism.
  • Best Example of Not Knowing When to Say When: Depressed Clark (Demetri Goritsas) can’t cope with his deteriorating home life, falls off the wagon after eight months of sobriety and basically calls his boss a pedophile while hanging in the hot tub with the others. Jeb got it all on tape. Awkward.
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Things do not end well for Bart, an old acquaintance of Jeb, when he visits his old buddy’s house. (Photo courtesy High Octane Pictures)
  • Best Reason to Not Reunite With Old Friends: Buddy Bart (Max Kasch) pays Jeb a visit and they toke up in Jeb’s childhood bedroom/Saddam Hussein spider hole. Jeb’s mom, under the influence of a televangelist, smells the pot, grabs a gun and shoots him because weed is the devil. That wasn’t enough of an indignity for poor Bart, because after Jeb strangles Mom, he finishes the job by shooting him again.
  • Best Brushoff: Billy (Christopher Wolfe) takes off his shirt and enters the boudoir of Raven (Persia White), expecting to re-aardvark her, but she tells him to take a hike. He does, then gets ambushed and strangled with a belt.
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Natalie (Caitlin Girard) finds something that has tainted the hot tub during the writers’ retreat in American Killing. (Photo courtesy High Octane Pictures)
  • Best Source of Business for the Spa Cleaning Service: Natalie (Caitlin Gerard), enamored with the hot tub, finds a dead rabbit in it, which creeps her out (Fatal Attraction anyone?) and then ends up having it be her final resting place in Act Three-o. She kind of deserved it, though, because she did get a bit uppity with Raven when trying to decide who should go for help: “No offense, Raven, but you’re a chain smoker and I’ve been running half-marathons since high school.”

American Killing is not necessarily the most drive-in of flicks — we don’t get our first dead body until 51 minutes in, but after that, anybody can die at any time as the now-jobless, friendless and motherless Jeb says the hell with it and starts killing everybody in a pretty straightforward, sequential manner.

Two and a half stars. Check it out on TubiTV and on Amazon Prime.

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