Thursday, 17 June 2010

Review 'The Killer Inside Me': Slow moving, occasionally ultra violent new Winterbottom film...

It was impossible to discuss this film without some spoilers!

Within his latest film, the controversial and ultra-violent thriller ‘The Killer Inside Me’, there are signs that Michael Winterbottom was aiming for something of a black comedy. The quirky, ultra-colourful opening credits and the playful music underpinning a homicidal chase near the film’s conclusion, are placed alongside scenes of visceral and jarring brutality as Casey Affleck’s Texan sheriff, Lou Ford, becomes a psychopathic serial killer.

In an otherwise slow-paced and sedate film, of beautiful period detail, two key scenes of violence against female characters have sparked some outrage from a number of reviewers who found them to be in bad taste. Certainly, they make for uncomfortable viewing but sometimes that is the point. Arguably the hyper-violence of a Tarantino film (or an Eli Roth torture-porn flick) is more troubling as it is sold as entertainment. The violence in this picture is not enjoyable and nor should it be.

It is clear to often chilling (sometimes comic) effect that we are listening to an unreliable narrator in Lou Ford. He gives us a version of events which we know to be incorrect, convincing himself with his own deceit. Of a victim’s father he says “He couldn’t live down that his son was murdered by the hooker he fell in love with” although we know that Lou has killed them both. When he kills off a witness to his crimes by staging a suicide, he later refers to the event in his monologue as though the suicide was for real. “There’s a plot against me”, he tells us in earnest, “I did one thing wrong when I was a kid” he says, downplaying his rape of a young girl during his teenage years. Later, as he is about to frame a poor drunk for the murder of his fiancé he screams “I was going to marry that poor girl!” again seeming to buy into his own twisted lies. This delusional narration puts the comedy and the violence in context, confirming (if it were needed) that Winterbottom’s film is an attempt to really put the audience in the mind of this killer, with flashbacks to his past serving to help explain his route into a world of (often sexual) violence.

Making the tale richer is what for me seemed like a critique of a traditional filmic shorthand: that the rural, southern gentleman is a better sort than the slick city-boy. Last year Michael Haneke’s ‘The White Ribbon’ similarly flipped this convention, turning a seemingly pleasant, pastoral community into something dark and sinister. In this film we are shown a seeming pleasant yet utterly corrupt town where bribery and blackmail are commonplace and where a local tycoon excises total control over the local political machine. Lou Ford is a self-described “gentleman” and talks to everyone pleasantly with all the expected airs and graces associated with being “decent”. When an investigator from out of town finally links him to all the murders calling him a “son of a bitch”, a local law enforcement officer reacts more in horror to the language of this outsider than to Ford’s transgressions: "Don't say a thing about a man's mother!"

It is also a running theme in the film that almost everybody who learns of Lou’s violence and barbarity is willing to overlook it for their own gain, from the drunk to the union official. Even his fiancé, Amy (Kate Hudson), is ultimately willing to forgive Lou, such is his appeal as a gentleman. As Lou says “nobody ever has it coming. That’s why nobody ever sees it coming” and nobody ever sees him coming, even when they are aware of his crimes. In this way the film seems to be a satire of our preoccupation with image over substance.

Perhaps the best argument in support of claims that the film is misogynistic is that Jessica Alba (as the prostitute and first victim Joyce) and Kate Hudson play thinly developed characters and have little meaningful screen time which doesn't see them being punched repeatedly. However, this claim could be countered by the view that we only see them as Lou sees them and not as people separate from his interpretation. Casey Affleck is almost too good at this sort of quietly psychotic role. Anyone who saw him in ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ back in 2007 will remember how much of an uneasy presence he is without the need to really do or say very much. There is also a welcome cameo role for Bill Pullman, an actor not seen on screen enough in recent years.

Overall I would hesitate to say that I enjoyed ‘The Killer Inside Me’ or even that I liked it. What I am sure of, however, is that the film is not deserving of some of the critical bile that has been spilled in its direction. The violence is graphic and horrifying – as it should be in this story. Yes, the violence towards men is usually off-camera or relatively quick, but from Lou Ford’s perspective those murders are almost circumstantial. His murder of the two female leads and his behaviour around them is what this film is about. What I have tried to establish in this review is that there is merit to this film and more going on then you would find in a movie which was simply aiming for shock value. I probably won’t be watching it again recreationally, but ultimately it is a solidly made, decently acted film with some interesting ideas, which has the strength of its convictions even when that takes it to uncomfortable, unpalatable places.

'The Killer Inside Me' is rated '18' by the BBFC and can still be seen in cinema's across the UK. Today is its last day at Brighton's Duke of York's Picturehouse.


  1. Great review. I don't see the misogyny either. To the contrary, I think it's in part a commentary ON the misogyny hiding behind small-town gentlemanliness which, as you point out, is represented here as a mask hiding unspeakable horrors ... in almost a David Lynch kind of way. Anyway, great review.

  2. Thanks very much! Glad you liked the review.