Now that the serial killer has become a prime-time staple in shows such as Criminal Minds, Hannibal, and The Following, the prospect of yet another movie about a psychopath dehumanizing, torturing, raping, and killing women evokes little more than a yawn. A sign our culture's headed to wrack and ruin? Let the sociologists and theologians decide.

For most genre filmmakers, the choice seems simple: If they want their latest killer film to be noticed, it must be more violent and gruesome than the last.

A few directors, including The Barber helmer Basel Owies, have lit on another tack: Make smarter films that appeal not to our bloodlust but to our imagination and innate curiosity.

An ambitious, if wildly uneven, character study that relies on a taut script, snappy dialogue, and a few well-placed plot twists, The Barber boasts a fine turn by Scott Glenn as an aging serial killer who becomes active after a 20-year hibernation when a fan goads him into murdering again.

Glenn delivers the goods as Eugene Van Wingerdt, a Chicagoan who killed 17 women - he liked to bury them alive - then retired after an overzealous cop almost brought him down.

Chris Coy (The Walking Dead, Deliver Us From Evil) stars as super-fan John McCormack, an obsessive, volatile drifter in his early 30s who spends years tracking down Eugene only to find him living quietly as a meek, small-town barber, a pillar of the community who counts local Police Chief Hardaway as one of his best friends.

John rolls into town one day, grabs Eugene at knifepoint, and demands the elderly gent school him in the ways of killing. To prove himself, he murders a diner waitress in his motel room and invites Eugene to inspect the body.

But is John a true disciple? What does he really want with Eugene? The questions mount as the two men embark on a perverse pas de deux.

Glenn is impeccable in the film, but most of the film's weight rests on Coy's performance. Overly intense, at turns vicious, pouty, brooding, and infantile, Coy doesn't quite measure up to the task. He's not served well by Max Enscoe's script, which falters at key points.

The Barber **1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Basel Owies. With Scott Glenn, Chris Coy, Kristen Hager, Stephen Tobolowsky. Distributed by ARC Entertainment.

Running time: 1 hour, 35 mins.

Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, sexuality, smoking).

Playing at: AMC Neshaminy.