Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Premise: An adaptation of the novel by Jim Thompson. Set in the 1950s, a small town police deputy (Casey Affleck) frames a local adversary for murder but as his cover story begins to unravel, he continues to murder all those who threaten to expose the truth.
What Works: The Killer Inside Me is a tough, bold film that investigates psychopathic violence. Casey Affleck is very effective in his role as a charming but morally vacant human being and his performance is comparable to similar roles by Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter. The film does not shy away from the violence, which at times is very brutal, but the violence does not appeal to the prurient interest; there is narrative and thematic weight behind the brutality that gives it purpose.
What Doesn’t: Although The Killer Inside Me aims to be a character study of a psychopath, its conclusions come up short. The film gives a back story for the character’s sadistic obsessions and in the process it hits the Freudian subtext right on the head. These flashback scenes are appropriately awful but also silly in their blatancy. The political and economic structures of the town also figure into the violence but that too is oversimplified. Collectively, these attempts to explain away violent behavior risk reducing Affleck’s character to the sum of his upbringing and environment, ignoring the character’s own responsibility for his actions. Throughout the film, the story relies on a lot of coincidences and the climax is ridiculous, if it’s intended to be taken literally. The ending does not resolve any of the conflicts of the story but just allows the filmmakers an easy way out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into.
Bottom Line: The Killer Inside Me is bold and has a good performance by Casey Affleck, but the film’s attempt to probe the depths of psychotic behavior comes up shallow.
Afterthought: One final note about The Killer Inside Me. A lot has been made in the press about the violence of the film, particularly the scenes of violence against women. The unrated trailer available on the web certainly reinforced this impression by compacting a lot of the violence of the film into a few minutes, making it seem as though The Killer Inside Me is akin to films like I Spit on Your Grave, Last House on the Left, Bloodsucking Freaks or Irreversible. As an aficionado of extreme and exploitation cinema, I can tell you that this film is not that. There are just two scenes in the film that have this level of violence but taken as a whole, The Killer Inside Me does not have the kind of sustained violence or atmosphere of perversion and degradation like the films it is being equated with. Frankly, it does not even reach the levels already attained by mainstream Hollywood films like Basic Instinct or Blue Velvet. The Killer Inside Me certainly isn’t for the weak-gutted and it has its own faults, but initiating a new level of onscreen violence is not one of them.
Episode: #294 (June 27, 2010)