The Killer Inside Me
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Simon Baker, Ned Beatty
Grade: B –
It’s not often that a film comes along with the mindset of a Black Widow, eager to lure you in, chew you up, and spit you out as if it were second nature. Michael Winterbottom’s “The Killer Inside Me” is that edacious arachnid, a primed provider of psychopathy in its most lurid form, and has unsurprisingly come under criticism for its reluctance to succumb to genre expectation, and a fiercely obstinate approach towards character analysis. Assigned to play another guy by the name of Ford, Casey Affleck’s Lou is the Deputy Sheriff of a small American settlement, who gets embroiled in an affair with the prostitute he’s supposed to be ridding the town of. As the title may suggest, Lou’s indiscretions don’t cease at adultery, and soon he has the blood of more than one unfortunate soul on his hands.
One of the accusations levelled at Killer is that it glorifies violence towards women, and it’s true that Lou’s intertwined sexuality and aggression is a dominant feature. His first scene with prostitute Joyce (Alba), for instance, ends in sexual masochism, which I imagine had a fair few rolling their eyes. I’m inclined to believe that this scene asserts the film’s observations about sexual dependency, the idea of violence as erotic and indulgent. Joyce’s expectations of Lou are so inherently languid that she projects her self-objectification as a means of survival, as a confirmation of her ideas about what/who men are supposed to be. In one scene “The Killer Inside Me” says more about prostitution and its psychosexuality – about a secondary character no less – than something like 1971’s Klute does in its entire running time – and that’s without the likes of a knockout performance by Jane Fonda to anchor it. It does, however, contain a menacing turn from Casey Affleck, who digs deep to give a performance that mutates on a fine, deadening scale. The moment at which his feelings of solemnity, realisation, and relief at the death of his mistress confluence into a look that spells smugness and dread all-at-once, one of the most insightful, brilliant scenes Killer has on its roster. He even deals excellently with the mirroring of his characters statuses as husband and bachelor, more attuned to his environment than he is to any one of the people he has a relationship with. Just what, or who, is this man connected to?
Killer is astute even as, and perhaps despite of, its perpetually enforced impression of attraction as a more powerful proposition than morality or lifestyle. The ideological implications of the film are so thoroughly inordinate; Winterbottom won’t punish his character or even disguise his behaviour as a parodied brand of meticulous villainy, the like of which defined American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. Lou’s spurned redemption leaves a bitter taste, but as an audience should we even be expecting redemption? By and large, the characters associated with Lou – from his girlfriend, to his mistress, to his colleagues – allow him to indulge in sex and violence by offering scant challenge to his authority. One wonders whether the lenience towards his faults somewhat obliges us to attempt identification with the man, as if there are swathes of doubt beneath his angular, imposing surface that are otherwise muted. Does his behaviour derive from an uncontrollable hindrance? Is he a passive component of the dastardly, in conflict with a true nature?
“The Killer Inside Me” is deceptive to a degree because the first-person narrative voice-over of Lou, and its cognizant approach towards moral ambiguity, intersperses the film with initial anecdotal fever. Affleck delivers Lou’s plotting so matter-of-factly, rattling off the line “I knew I had to kill him” as if he were discussing the weather, or about to perform the most minimal of misdemeanours. The filtering tone of the first act encourages us to gauge Lou’s behaviour and attempt to understand it, before the first gruesome act of violence he partakes in dismisses ideas that Lou’s crimes come from circumstantial necessity. For a while the film plays the part of an infidel in a bad romance, alienating us with Lou’s violence, but encouraging us to hold onto his day-to-day commentary as the ounce of humanism that prevents him from being totally inaccessible, even suggesting he might eventually be rescuable. The implication that Lou can, to some extent, step back from his own actions is cynically contravened by his late act of betrayal towards a character close to him. Deliberate in its intent to stir, the antagonism of this technique debilitates the film’s impact as an assessment of psychosis, and Winterbottom’s late move to make his provocation more brazen and cynical fails to temper the feeling that “The Killer Inside Me” has lost its narrative drive a good half-hour before the credits come up.
Many of a film’s most rewarding features can manifest themselves in retrospect. We should be more suspicious of Lou’s strange avoidance of discussing drive and emotion, of his lack of real motive, but Winterbottom does such a good job in distracting from what should essentially be clear to see. It reads more of a reflection of mainstream cinema as a moral crusade to say that people don’t take lightly to investing their evening into a character that’s been built up as an anti-hero, but who ends the film in such a blaze of unfathomable disgrace. If the film ends with the presence of a messy inferno, it isn’t without a hint of irony. “The Killer Inside Me” challenges as much as it manipulates, and on balance redeems itself more than the killer it depicts.