Casey strikes again
The Killer Inside Me
Michael Winterbottom, master of every genre he touches (and he’s touched all of them – from 24 Hour Party People to A Mighty Heart to 9 Songs), has now produced an R18-rated serial killer movie about a law-man with a dark secret.
I have my own confession to make. I saw this film back in July, during the film festival. And I couldn’t bring myself to write about it back then. I’d like to say it’s because I saw about 17 films in a fortnight, and wrote up all the others, so was a bit tired… But I think it was really about the intensity of Casey Affleck’s latest outing, my serious ambivalence about the film, and just not wanting to think about it for a wee while afterwards…
Five months on, and with its general release at one of my local cinemas, it’s time to complete my record of the 2010 NZFF.
The Killer Inside Me is apparently renowned as a very fine book, by pulp crime writer Jim Thompson. Set in picturesque, delicate, 1950s small-town U. S of A, Affleck’s sheriff Lou Ford seems like a gentle soul, with his slightly croaky voice and pretty-as-all-hell fiancee (played by Kate Hudson). It is therefore a complete shock to the audience’s system when we are rapidly introduced to the darker side of Lou’s world – rough sex with a local prostitute (the seriously gorgeous Jessica Alba) that develops into a sado-masochistic (or perhaps just sadistic?) love affair, which descends into murder. We are spared nothing, at any stage of this relationship, hence the well-earned R18 label. And to hammer home (if you’ll excuse the term) just how deceptively brutal Lou can be, Winterbottom holds the camera on his victims so that it was I who was forced to look away. (I developed a mechanism to deal with this, which meant I didn’t risk missing when the scene changed, but didn’t need to take in every moment of the violence.)
And violent it is. I’d seen my fair share of the Clockwork Oranges and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killers in my younger days, but not lately. What makes this film at once repulsive and utterly compelling is the superb acting, the production design and photography, the soundtrack and general feel of a film more akin in style to Far From Heaven than Suspiria. (There’s a lot of blood.) The violence against women in Thompson’s original novel is indisputably horrific and categorically without a snippet of justification, other than to support the characterisation of someone like Lou Ford who is drawn to such behaviour. Even writing this now I’m not sure how I can legitimately recommend the film, except that I remember being wowed right to the end, and feeling absolutely certain as the credits rolled that Winterbottom had, once again, produced a great film.
The subject matter was never going to be pretty. It is a credit to all the actors involved that their performances are uniformly excellent (especially Affleck’s). I don’t know how far this wades into exploitation territory, or downright misogyny, but as a piece of cinema The Killer Inside Me is a brave and beautiful work. Just don’t ask me to watch it again.