The Killer Inside Me
Michael Winterbottom’s latest film has already caused outrage and charges of misogyny, and while I did not like it at all, and did spend a good portion of the time hiding my head in my hands moaning, ‘Oh, sweet Jesus, please make it stop,’ I can’t say it’s a bad film. I want to say it’s a bad film. I long to say it’s a bad film and that, as a woman who once marched to reclaim the night — even though the night never marched for me — I was both repulsed and offended by the explicit, prolonged violence. But? Although this isn’t my sort of movie, and I wouldn’t have paid to see it in a million years, and I’m not glad to have seen it now, violence against women does happen in real life and where is cinema if it cannot show real life? After all, there are only so many times you can watch Sex and the City 2 (barely once, now I think about it. In fact, if you can get away without seeing it at all, you’re pretty much ahead of the game).
The Killer Inside Me is based on Jim Thompson’s 1952 pulp fiction novel and stars Casey Affleck as Lou Ford, the deputy sheriff of a small Texan town, who, on the surface, is polite, trustworthy, agree-able and couldn’t do more to help, ma’am. No one would peg him for the sociopathic killer he is, although we certainly know something is awry. In a drawling voice-over he admits it’s all an act, that no one knows the real him, so we are bracing ourselves from the start. The tension is phenomenal, plus Affleck’s performance is chillingly convincing; mesmerising. Even when Lou is at his most charming, we can sense the terrifying, madly disturbed psyche beneath.
The violence kicks in when Lou is asked to run a prostitute (Jessica Alba) out of town. She slaps him, he slaps her, and before you can say ‘Carrie, Big is such a drip’, they’ve embarked on a sadomasochistic affair of the kind spanking fetishists will almost certainly enjoy. But it isn’t enough for Lou, some kind of childhood repression is triggered — shown in flashbacks — and he snaps, coolly putting on black gloves and punching Alba in the face until she looks like ‘chewed meat, hamburger’. It’s a protracted sequence which I cannot describe in detail, for obvious reasons — ‘Oh, sweet Jesus, please make it stop’ — but I did hear the bones crunch, and I think, between my fingers, I might have seen one of her eyes go all skew-whiff. It would be one of the most revolting things I would have ever seen at the cinema, had I looked. From here on in, Lou has to stay one step ahead of the murder investigation and, to this end, has to dispatch his sweet girlfriend, Amy (Kate Hudson). She is not punched to hamburger meat. But her windpipe is crushed and we see her dying in a pool of her own urine. This would be one of the most degrading things I would have ever seen at the cinema, had I looked.
This is a film in which scenes of men talking to other men are punctuated by extreme acts of violence against women, and I’m not about to sell it to you. Still, it does not endorse the violence, glamorise it, or normalise it in any way. It’s shown for the properly sickening thing it is. And doesn’t misogyny exist? Didn’t it exist particularly in 1950s Texas? Are past horrors never to be revisited? Are films about the Holocaust degrading to Jews? But if Winterbottom had shown more discretion, had pulled back so that we might stomach it, at least, it would have been a considerably improved film.
Winterbottom has a diverse portfolio — A Mighty Heart; A Cock and Bull Story; Welcome to Sarajevo; 24 Hour Party People — but his straightforward cinematic realism may be too much for this material, and too much for us. I did want to understand why Lou was behaving as he was, what exactly those childhood traumas were, but this is never clear. On the other hand, perhaps this is never clear. Why did the Yorkshire Ripper do what he did? But the violence takes over. This review is all about the violence. It draws you away from everything else going on, including the amazing performances and the terrific noir mood. But — and here’s the weirdest thing — I was never bored.
So, here I am, then, caught between not exactly liking this film and not being able to condemn it, which leaves us where exactly? I don’t know. I guess you should go see it if you want to test your own boundaries, and don’t if you don’t. More than this I cannot say. It’s your call and, if I were you, I’d run with it. I won’t be on hand to advise you all your life, you know. So best get used to it now.