Last night’s Lifetime movie Happy Face Killer was “inspired by true events.” Lucky for Lifetime, those true events were already pretty clichéd, so they didn’t have to stretch the truth too far. David Arquette plays Keith Hunter Jesperson (always three names), a truck driver who killed multiple women in the ’90s and sent notes with smiley faces taunting the authorities. The movie extends the smiley face signature to include drawing it on or near his victims, because ooooh scaaaary. These details are just a few of the numerous items on the serial killer checklist that this movie (and the story it’s based on) fulfill. David Arquette thankfully googled “how to act evil” to prepare himself, which was appreciated.
We start the movie at the end, as Lifetime is wont to do, as FBI agent Melinda Gand (Gloria Reuben) finds a dead, half-naked woman tied up in a basement, with a smiley face drawn in blood on the wall. You’ve probably noticed that I call it a smiley face. I thought that was what everyone else called it too, but apparently I’m going to have to get used to it being called a “happy face.” I doubt that’s what Forrest Gump intended when he invented it, but whatever.
Flashback to two years earlier. Oregon-dwelling Keith is driving along in his truck looking at a photo of his beautiful family like people always do right before their life is about to spiral out of control. He visits Truck Driver HQ and tells the folks there that he’s trying out to be a Canadian Mountie. He was born in Canada and thinks it’s the “most beautiful place in the world.” It’s funny because Lifetime is to Canada what The Lord of the Rings is to New Zealand. If I had a nickel for every “aboat” I heard in a Lifetime movie, I’d be very rich.
Keith’s face is looking just as happy as the ones he’ll later leave with the victims of his murdering. But cue record scratching sound, because as soon as he gets home he gets a call from Canada telling him he won’t be a Mountie, and he finds a note from his wife telling him she’s taken the kids and left. Everybody knows that if you’re in a movie about a guy who snaps and becomes a serial killer, everything bad happens within the span of one minute. When you remember that Keith had an abusive childhood (A man with past trauma? GASP.) and a nasty habit of killing animals when he was a kid, it seems pretty likely he’ll become a serial killer.
And he does. After watching a few home videos and crying over the fact that none of them are funny enough to submit to AFV (or that he’s lost his children, I’m not sure), Keith draws a happy face on the fogged up window and leaves his house. Lifetime must think we’re all total idiots, because the close-up on the happy face lasts about fifteen seconds longer than it should. I GET IT! IT’S THE NAME OF THE MOVIE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Once we get that plot point out of the way, it’s time for Keith to go to a bar and pick up a chick.
Unfortunately Keith picks a girl named Sissy (Emily Haine) who would rather try on his Mountie hat and make fun of him than have sex, and that makes Keith very angry. Much like the Hulk and me when I walk behind slow people at the mall, you won’t like him when he’s angry. He beats, rapes and strangles her to the tune of “No More Mr. Nice Guy” (really?) and then dumps her body in a ditch across the border into Washington. Obviously that means the FBI has to get involved.
The FBI is represented by lady agent Gand, whom we saw at the beginning (which was really the end) of the movie. She’s a hardass who specializes in crimes against women. For her, it’s personal, because of course it is. Her sister was murdered and they never found the killer. Hmm, wonder if that’ll come up later. Fun story: I just binge-watched Twin Peaks last week, so obviously the combination of the Pacific Northwest and an FBI agent led to me shouting at Agent Gand that “the owls are not what they seem” every five minutes before re-remembering what I was watching. Sorry Agent Gand.