The Young Poisoner's Handbook (Benjamin Ross)

Rating: ** (out of ****)

Heavenly Creatures and The Young Poisoner's Handbook would make a very instructive double-bill: how to make a terrific film based upon a sensational true story of murderous teens, and how to make a thoroughly mediocre one. Based upon the queasy adventures of Graham Young, Ross' film aims for black comedy rather than poignant, hyperactive tragedy, and the result is drab, repulsive, and, worst of all, not funny. Furthermore, there's no dramatic momentum whatsoever; Graham kills some people, is caught, is released, kills some more people, and is caught again. (His murders are scored to peppy tunes by the likes of Jethro Tull and War, for our tacit approval.) The film briefly comes to life in an asylum, as Graham struggles with his psychosis, but soon it's back to shots of people vomiting, losing their hair, falling over, and so forth. Everyone but Graham and his psychiatrist is a caricature, including everybody he murders; Graham himself remains a cipher, and I could neither care about him nor about who did or didn't suffer at his hands. Hugh O'Conor, who was so remarkable as the young Christy Brown in My Left Foot (and who has grown up to be an uncanny double of Matthew Broderick), tries valiantly to invest Graham with some life, but he has nothing substantial to work with, and is frequently called upon merely to stare wide-eyed past the lens. The film might have been rather interesting had Ross chosen to really delve into the details of Graham's obsession with toxins -- in the absence of understanding the protagonist, we could at least have understood the nature of his work. But The Young Poisoner's Handbook glosses over everything...except the sight of ugly people suffering.