Film review – The Killer Inside Me (2010)

24 August 2010
The Killer Inside Me: Lou Ford (Casey Affleck)

Lou Ford (Casey Affleck)

Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is a Texas deputy sheriff in a small country town in the 1950s. On the surface Lou seems like a pillar of virtue. He describes himself as ‘a man and a gentleman’, he doesn’t like carrying a gun and he loves his schoolteacher girlfriend Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson). However, Lou is also having an intense sadomasochistic sexual relationship with prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) and has Oedipal issues that are more extreme than usual, even for a film noir protagonist. He is also a delusional psychopath who kills people for reasons that he largely has to invent for himself after the event.

Adapted from the novel by Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me is the latest film by the highly talented and prolific English director Michael Winterbottom (Genova, A Mighty Heart). It is best described as a ‘country noir,’ resembling films like Lone Star and especially No Country For Old Men for its brutal existentialism. It is also a deeply psychological film that takes the audience further and further into Lou’s mind so that the film ends in a way where we are not too sure what is real anymore and what is part of Lou’s deranged perception of reality. In this way The Killer Inside Me also evokes Orson Welles’s The Lady From Shanghai and a very powerful visual motif from the film’s conclusion is also highly suggestive of Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly and David Lynch’s Lost Highway.

The Killer Inside Me: Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba)

Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba)

The scenes depicting extreme violence against women have been, and will most likely continue to be, the main focal point for many people. This is a pity as there is a lot more to The Killer Inside Me. However the scenes do contain an undeniable power that is impossible not to address, shot as they are in a sickening, graphic, realistic and intimate way. The combination of make-up, cinematography and gut churning sound effects is designed to make the audience feel complete horror and disgust. Casey Affleck’s performance adds to the impact as he is so chillingly calm, restrained and even slightly playful.

These scenes are not voyeuristic exercises in cruelty as they function instead as confronting representations of the true impact of violence, especially when fuelled by the type of extreme paranoid misogyny that possesses Affleck’s character. Post Silence of the Lambs, cinematic serial killers and mass murderers have tended to become transgressive anti-heroes. By making the violence in The Killer Inside Me so revolting and unpalatable, Winterbottom confronts us with our own tendency to become complicit with onscreen violence, in a way that is not too dissimilar to Gaspar Noé Irréversible and both versions of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games.

The Killer Inside Me: Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) and Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson)

Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) and Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson)

The Killer Inside Me is going to attract plenty of detractors not only for its graphic content but also for its pace and bizarre ending. However, it is a slow, atmospheric and simmering film where the tension is maintained effectively through a dread for what may happen next. This is compelling and challenging cinema, punctuated with genuinely shocking moments, by a director and a cast of actors who are right at the top of their game. The content and the unconventional form that this film eventually takes does not make it easy viewing but Winterbottom is a director worth placing your trust in and viewers who are ready to go with him will be immensely rewarded.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2010 Diary: Pre Festival – Part 3

22 July 2010

Notes on some of the MIFF films getting a general release

Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone

I used to recommend that people don’t go to films in the festival that already have an Australian distributor attached to them (and are therefore likely to get released) because that was a waste of a ticket but I don’t abide by that anymore. For a start, seeing a film at the festival is so much more enjoyable than going to a regular session at the local cinema. There’s more a sense of occasion plus festival audiences seem to be less inclined to talk, play with their phones and eat three course meals throughout the film. Also, because not all the films always end up getting cinematic releases – especially the ones that have no confirmed release date yet. As Cerise Howard notes on her list of films with Australian distributors, many of them may be destined to go straight to DVD.

Two of the films in the festival that I’ve seen that are getting released soon are The Special Relationship and Despicable Me. The Special Relationship is a dramatisation of the dynamic between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton while Despicable Me is a 3D computer animation about a super villain, sort of in the vein of The Incredibles. Both are films worth seeing but not ones I’d personally give priority to at the festival.

Of more interest is Debra Granik’s new film Winter’s Bone about a teenage girl trying to track down her methamphetamine-making father in the ultra poor Missouri mountains community that she has the misfortunate of living in. I’m still not sure how I feel about this film because I found it such a depressing experience, although it also functions as a strong and tense mystery. There is a lot to admire about Winter’s Bone but I’m not so sure if I enjoyed it – although I guess that is sort of the point.

The other mystery of sorts that I’ve seen is Roman Polanski’s new film, the very atmospheric The Ghost Writer. While not in the same league as classics such as Repulsion and Chinatown, The Ghost Writer is one of Polanski’s better straightforward genre films.

Boy

Boy

I remember seeing New Zealand director Taika Waititi’s acclaimed short film Two Cars, One Night at a MIFF opening night years ago and absolutely loved it (it was certainly far superior to Somersault, which was meant to be the main attraction). While I wasn’t a big fan of Waititi’s first feature film Eagle vs Shark, his new film Boy is absolutely wonderful. It is so genuine and funny that it is little wonder it has taken the New Zealand box office by storm. Highly recommended.

The two MIFF films that I have seen that I am most excited about are the Cronenbergian Splice and Michael Winterbottom’s new film The Killer Inside Me, a neo noir with shades of Kiss Me Deadly and No County For Old Men. I suspect many others will not share my enthusiasm for both films to the same extent and these are certainly not films for everybody. While the visceral horror of Splice is more transgressively fun than anything seriously confronting, the violence in The Killer Inside Me is some of the most shocking violence I’ve seen in cinema for a very long time. However, I loved them both and will probably include them on my top ten films of 2010 list at the end of the year.

Thomas

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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