Two and half decades ago, Scott Glenn’s FBI agent was working with Clarice Starling to catch a heinous serial killer. Now, Glenn’s playing one himself. Or is he? The Barber hinges on the uncertainty of whether the haircutting Eugene—who had been arrested and released in connection with a string of buried-alive slayings two decades prior—really is a deranged murderer. The setup is sound, but as too often happens with low-budget thrillers, the twists and turns end up circling back on themselves like a snake eating its own tail.

Since the dark days of his arrest and release, Eugene has flown under the radar, starting over with a new name in a sleepy small town and carrying on a clean-cut lifestyle as the proprietor of a barbershop. He’s pals with the sheriff. The waitress at the local greasy spoon knows his order without having to ask. But Eugene’s quiet life as an upstanding citizen is shattered when the brash John McCormack (Chris Coy) rolls into town. Unbeknownst to Eugene, he’s the son of a cop who killed himself due to his missteps in putting away the serial killer. After initially confronting him with a knife, John ingratiates himself with Eugene by claiming that he’s an aspiring serial killer himself, one who admires Eugene’s flawless execution so much that he wants the old man to mentor him in the art of stalking and slaying.

Eugene rebuffs him at first, until John proves his worth by showing Eugene the apparently lifeless body of the previously mentioned waitress (Olivia Dudley) in a motel bathtub. After putting John through a few more tests, the lonely Eugene is willing to spill his serial killer trade secrets, all of which would seem laughably pedestrian to someone like Hannibal Lecter. Staying with Eugene (who seems to want more than anything to have company for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday), John then discovers a box full of books about serial killers with dog-eared and highlighted pages. Realizing all the tricks that Eugene has taught him come from those books, John can’t be certain whether Eugene is the real deal or simply a serial killer fanboy himself.

Glenn brings gravitas to his title role, and there are a few nice touches to his character, such as his admonishing people for cursing. There’s also fine supporting work from characters actors, including Stephen Tobolowsky (Ned from Groundhog Day) as the sheriff and Max Arciniega (Krazy-8 in “Breaking Bad”) as Eugene’s foulmouthed employee. But first-time director Basel Owies lets too many rough edges show in his film, and the ludicrous and expository coda (and weak third act in general) and indicative of why screenwriter Max Enscoe’s previous credits have all been on made-for-TV movies. As John, Coy comes off as grating, to the point that bad things happening to him would be a welcome sight. Glenn does his best with what he’s given, but the forced and unsatisfying conclusion ends up even turning his character cartoonish. There was the chance for a truly subversive take on the portrayal of serial killers here, but one that simply goes unexplored. With contrived twists and turns, The Barber wastes an intriguing premise and opts instead to be nothing more than an ineffectual copycat.

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