American Psycho: Redefining the Slasher Film

I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip. – Patrick Bateman.

Image result for american psycho cover

Mary Harron’s American Psycho (2000) is a captivating slasher film rich with intertextuality, allegories and novel slasher-film conventions. With the addition of Christian Bale’s mesmerizing portrayal of the deranged Patrick Bateman, the audience is gifted with a complex, psychotic killer, constantly holding the viewer’s interest. Straying from traditional slasher films, Harron immediately aligns her viewers with Bateman by presenting the film through the underscored killer’s perspective. Through incorporating cinematographic techniques such as frequent internal diegetic dialogue, various allegories and diverse camera angles, Harron immerses the viewers in Bateman’s methodical routine along with his unhinged, loathsome thoughts alluding to his psychotic condition which complicates the slasher film killer trope.

Harron leaves little room for innocence in the film as she introduces Bateman’s character. During the early sequence of the film, an elaborate structure of explicit dialogue and visual elements are employed insinuating Bateman’s insanity. As the film progresses, Bateman commits various discriminatory acts to cope with his insecure need to feel superior. The viewer is subjected to such prejudices on multiple occasions as Bateman routinely displays his misogynistic, homophobic and racist dispositions all alluding to Harron’s depiction of America’s stereotypical dominant, white-collar male. Additionally, Bateman’s abhorrent behavior carries over to his colleagues as he narcissistically compares his business card to theirs with blatant disgust. As Bateman’s associates present their business cards, Harron employs multiple hyperbolic close-ups on the cards to articulate how imperative it is for Bateman to feel superior. Through the multiple examples of Bateman’s loathing of those around him, Harron present’s a vastly complex killer filling the audience with anticipation of his next therapeutic murder.

Towards the culmination of Bateman’s psychological breakdown, Harron includes a scene where Bateman chases his hired prostitute, Christie (Cara Seymour), throughout his second apartment. During this scene, the viewer is exposed to the full maniacal bloodlust of Patrick Bateman as the viewer is positioned with Christie’s canted point-of-view as she desperately attempts to escape. Bateman’s ultimate insanity is further conveyed as he attempts to slash the panic-stricken, blonde Christie with a chainsaw. At this instant, the scene is potent with references to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), however, this is not merely another trite homage paid to the anteceding slasher film. Looking back to a previous scene in Harron’s film, as Bateman performs his rigorous exercise routine, the viewer is subjected to Hooper’s final girl, Sally, and her bloodcurdling screams as she attempts to escape Leatherface on the television in the background. Through Bateman’s copious references to serial killers and his choice in film, it can be surmised that Bateman was simply re-enacting a coveted slasher film scene, which he uses to sedate his constant thirst for blood. By tying such references together, Harron not only consistently recognizes Hooper’s work, but incorporates it in the film’s narrative as an integral component of the sadistic killer’s structure.

The artful presentation of Bateman’s conscious allows Harron to continuously build upon her killer’s augmenting structure. Through the viewer’s exposure to his thoughts, it is gradually revealed that Batheman is aware of his growing bloodlust and derangement. His realization is presented early in the film as he internally states, “Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don’t know why.” This separates Bateman from orthodox serial killers as he recognizes that his lust for murder may not simply be out of enjoyment but could be due to an underlying psychological condition. Furthermore, during Bateman’s excruciatingly awkward date with Jean, he is seen holding a nail gun behind her head to be interrupted by the phone just in time. Following the voicemail, he then instructs Jean to leave as he doesn’t want to hurt her as if to delineate his lack of control over his previous intent to murder her. Although Bateman doesn’t seek treatment, this convention adds to the verisimilitude of the film as he appears to be an average man; opposing more supernatural serial killers portrayed in previous slasher films, such as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980).

The film’s unnerving ending serves as a reminder of Bateman’s exceeding socio-economic stature and the additional non-material advantages it provides. Harron utilizes his stature as a reference to the unjust innerworkings of society and its glorification of those high on the economic totem pole. Bateman’s untouchable status is exaggerated through his literal ability to get away with murder. Leaving the viewer with an unsettling close-up of Bateman’s apathetic countenance, Harron symbolically mirrors the same apathy contemporary high-business figures display as they exploit lower-level society. Superficially, Mary Harron’s American Psycho may appear to be a tactless slasher film, however, through innovative dialogue, a realistic complex serial-killer and thematic allusions to contemporary society, Harron brilliantly expands the slasher subgenre.    

— Levi R. Schmillen, Film Blogger

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