Michael Winterbottom’s noir-thriller – The Killer Inside Me – has not been subject to the warmest of receptions. Ever since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, the several visceral scenes of violence perpetrated against women have unfortunately led to accusations of misogyny and, in the process, eclipsed many of the fine aspects that the film has to offer.
Adapted from Jim Thompson’s novel of the same name, Winterbottom has been faithful to the original source material which is reflected in both the dialogue and the ominous tone of the mise-en-scene that rumbles like approaching thunder.
Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is a deputy sheriff in a quiet Texan town where the people are always polite and are most commonly heard to reply, ‘Yes ma’am or no ma’am’ to any given question. It’s a place that, like Lou, maintains a respectable veneer which only serves to mask over the reality of what lies beneath it. As Lou observes: everyone thinks they know who you are when in fact they don‘t.
Effectively schizophrenic – or at the very least bi-polar – Lou is perceived by the local community to be a man of integrity and honour whilst, in private, he secretly enacts his desire to brutally beat women. Lou sublimates these urges by engaging in rough sexual acts but is inevitably unable to contain his most untamed compulsion: murder.
Winterbottom has crafted a disturbing film that refuses to play down the brutality and sheer unpleasantness of its protagonist. Affleck portrays Lou Ford with chilling precision, his adolescent features obscuring the psychopath dwelling underneath the surface whilst his measured drawl suggests a cool placid persona. This disguise proves such an effective illusion it leads one policeman to conclude that Lou “just doesn’t fit the bill as a killer”.
Any furore surrounding Lou’s unrestrained attack on Joyce – played by Jessica Alba – is wholly unjustified. The scene is prolonged to such an extent it renders the images almost unbearable to watch. The reaction it elicits should alone excuse the film from any accusations of ‘misogyny’: the scene is so vile that it reflects the repulsiveness of the act itself.
Aside from the headline grabbing set pieces the film also boasts an impressive period design. The cars, costumes and colour scheme wonderfully – and subtly – re-create circa 1950s America amidst the post-war boom without distracting from the narrative. All the elements are perfectly integrated, neither leaping off the screen nor passing un-noticed.
The Killer Inside Me is not a comfortable film to watch but I doubt that was ever the intention. Refreshingly, it’s a psychologically taut film that doesn’t concern itself with explaining away Lou’s actions in the manner that Norman Bates is deconstructed in the final reel of Pyscho. Such aspersions, or indeed assertions, would rob Lou of his ambiguity which accounts for his uniquely terrifying edge. Winterbottom continues to surprise with this ambitious project that, whilst it may not be watertight, is certainly a cut above the rest when it comes to the portrayal of homicidal sociopaths and is a valuable contribution to the noir genre.