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The Killer Inside Me

You do worry about Casey Affleck. Or you would, if you were stuck in a lift with him and he started making a strange clicking noise with his teeth, trust me. The guy is born to play warped, openly malignant, grown-up Damien-types, wearing a face in The Killer Inside Me that looks like it’s disappointed it’s not hovering over the next victim with a serrated blade, amused that the twitching, bloodied heap at his feet might have ever contemplated escape. Even amidst the inconveniently wearying battering he doles out to both Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson, Affleck looks pained with lethargic ennui, as though tasked with something enjoyable only in its conception, not its manifestation. It’s the opposite of a thousand-yard-stare, the look he appropriates on screen at times; more a millimetre-pinpoint-stare into your soul that you really don’t want snapping into focus anywhere in your direction. A kind of infinite hangdog malevolence feeding a posse of demons.

If you’ve seen Affleck in The Assassination Of Jesse James, you’ll know what I mean. In that, he acts Brad Pitt and Sam Rockwell into another, lesser film, so brilliantly apart is he as ‘The Coward Robert Ford’. He is genuinely sensational, to the extent that you haven’t really seen anything quite like it, and you’re wondering how his brother feels at being so totally overshadowed (I know that’s a fairly pointless thought, but I do wonder if Baffleck is both delighted and horrendously jealous, as I’m sure he must be) in the acting stakes.

Here, he’s a vacantly intense deputy sheriff with a bit of a fondness for sex, ultraviolence and beating women, particularly those he’s managed to spin into his barbed wire web of oedipal nightmares; those that reciprocate him being worthy of little other than horrific death, obtuse justifications and deflected blame aside. He’s a pathological murderer, then, once caught in a generational cycle of abuse and now festering in dusty small-townsville waiting for the next focal point to occupy his bruised raison d’etre. He apologises as he batters defenceless women, but does nothing to abate his crazed assault. He hangs the pleasant local kid that may potentially get in his way. Yep, he’s hatstand. And, as ever with performances like this one, you’re caught between breathless and potentially heinous enjoyment of a barnstorming performance and chastising yourself for cheering on a maniac.

Affleck is after ridding the town of a prostitute (Alba) at the outset, only to find that her twistedly submissive response to his goaded aggression means he wants to keep her around for the time being; cue a bit of a mess once the prospect of an escape fatally exits Alba’s lips and the town bigshot’s son becomes the second of a pair of murders. Thereafter, Affleck shimmies and feints with nary a twitch, the boyish, nutty face of unassuming innocence, as Elias Koteas and Simon Baker beg to differ. When Bill Pullman turns up, an increasingly weird presence in an odd assortment of films, you know it’s going to be hard for Affleck to sit it out.

The violence: yes, it’s shocking. Women being beaten to death is shocking. (The film is about a lunatic that kills women because he is psychologically tormented and inexorably warped – that’s what it says on the tin, and the contents don’t shy away from the fact.) The only relevant question here should be: is the violence an indispensable element of the film? And the answer is yes, resoundingly. The visceral nastiness of it, the grisly nausea ellicited is a purposeful jolt out of a comfort zone: this is not palatable violence of the ilk normally present and cartoonishly correct – this is teeth-thudding and jaw-splintering. There is a verisimilitude here that you can’t absorb easily and comprehend: this jars like a left-hander, long after the credits roll. Yes, Winterbottom is a delirious, gleeful provocateur, but here (unlike with 9 Songs, which was nothing more than an exercise, a stance) it works horribly well and deepens the depiction of off-the-rails psychosis, renders it scathingly powerful. And there may be essay-length arguments to be had as to why he chose Hudson and Alba for this, and what he’s saying about our relationship to film – but that’s another story.

Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba have never been better, and Michael Winterbottom deserves a lot of credit here (though come on Michael; enough with the daft arguments for the film: they’re not actually necessary but the ones you have marshalled are nonsense) but Affleck deserves an Oscar for humanising a potentially slasher-esque 2D weirdo.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Mary Gilbert
    June 15, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Loved Wonderland but I won’t be going to see this one. I don’t want to `carry on’.
    I can’t derive any interest or pleasure in seeing a young woman being beaten to death in sickening detail. ` A purposeful jolt out of a comfort zone’? I presume I share the same `comfort zone’ as you Lee – I haven’t seen anyone murdered – have you? Do you feel more manly or hip for being able to watch it and bear it? As for `gleeful provocateur’ – are you suggesting that Winterbottom is daring his audience to look away? Well he’s succeeded with me but strangely I don’t feel less of a person for doing so.(Incidentally I loved The Assassination of Jessie James)

    • June 15, 2010 at 12:51 pm

      I totally respect your response, here. It’s a shame you won’t see the film, but I completely understand your reasoning.

      I certainly didn’t derive any interest or pleasure from the scenes in question, I assure you. They are horrific. And when referring to the ‘comfort zone’ in question, I was referring more to the sense (clearly not shared by yourself) that tends to be assumed amongst most cinemagoers: that what they are watching bears no import to their lives and that there is a comfortable distance between what is going on up on the screen and the reality of their lives, which are, thankfully, far-removed from the terrible fate of the female protagosists here. But I do think that is central to what Winterbottom is doing – puncturing that bubble. Gleefully? Yes, I think so, whatever he may protest. And of course, cinematic adaptations are not the same thing, in many respects, as the source origin (Thompson’s horrid, compulsive book in this instance) but the question is there: is it a faithful adaptation? Yes, and that doesn’t mean that strict adherence alone is justification. But in this case I feel the way those scenes have been captured get the essence of the novel – that here is an exceedingly problematic individual, and to remove scenes such as those in question is to undermine the film and the point of the film. He’s real, he’s out there, in different guises. And I’d rather face up to that, accept it, and try and engage with it. Otherwise, for me, I feel like I’m duping myself. You could replace certain scenes here with dissolves or jump-cuts, and I’d feel that the character was not being fully represented, as uncomfortable as it is enduring what he inflicts. I guess it boils down to this: I think films are there for a number of reasons, and hopefully they’ll be thought-provoking, inspirational, surprising and innovative. But ultimately, films do two things, both equally useful, and the best of film does both simultaneously, for me: they run you through and between the polarities of emotional response. And this film, for all its inherent controversy, does just that.

      I reiterate, though: I’m not having fun at certain points of this film. I am sensitive to the provocations. I am certainly nauseous, in particular, as Jessica Alba is punched into a senseless pulp. And I am exceedingly aware that I sound like I’m defending violent acts. I’m not: I’m defending the right to depict disturbing scenes if it forms part of a non-exploitative story (I think Winterbottom does this), and I totally understand if anyone doesn’t want to watch. I won’t be watching it again in a hurry, but I do find the film to be an excellent addition to difficult, necessary cinema.

  2. Mary Gilbert
    June 18, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Hi Lee
    First of all I want to thak you for taking the time to write such a thoughful and detailed response to my comments. I guess we’re not going to agree on this one. I suppose despite what you say about the seriousness of Winterbottom’s intent I feel that an awful lot of films ( and novels – and TV dramas) seem to focus on `psychologically tormented psychopaths’ dishing out hideous deaths. I understand – to paraphrase you that `they’re real and they’re out there in different guises’ and the recent murders in Bradford only underline this. But, and here I suppose I’m making a much wider point, I do feel disturbed that in our modern global culture so much entertainment is predicated upon serial killing and murder – particularly of women. I mean c’mon – there’s not that many of them out there…. I agree with you about `difficult necessary cinema ‘ but for me that would be a film that has a political point to make not one where yet another psycho nutter trawls small towns for nubile victims however well filmed.
    Also an intelligent and talented director like Winterbottom surely doesn’t have to join the gore merchants? I’m a bit at a loss to explain his decisions with his last two films. I think I’ll retain my fond memories of the stop frame section in Wonderland as Gina McGee wanders around Soho lonely and sad accompanied by Michael Nyman.
    ( You might be amused to learn that another English couple we know here think my husband and I love violent films because we took them to see Syriana and Blood Diamond ….)

  3. Lee Monks
    June 29, 2010 at 7:59 am

    Hi Mary
    No problem at all: I only wish I had responded earlier (and had more time to do so now!). I do take your point that there is an over-abundance of slasher-type films. I guess they’re a usefully failsafe option: run-of-the-mill generic storyline and cheap thrills. And most of them are exploitative rubbish, of course. It does tend to be an economy-class option for journeymen directors – a bit of gore and psycho-sexual grisly torture porn always shifts units so they’ll continue to spatter them out.

    Winterbottom, for me, is now becoming far more intriguing than in earlier films. He still does the same things in every film – the kind of Nic Roeg aping (in turn aped aplenty by Soderbergh) of stylised splicing and montage-snippets with alternating soundtracks and non-linear cutting etc. But nowadays there seems to be a well-calibrated potency, a charge to his films that I didn’t get before. Maybe that’s just me.

    I do think that the film has a political undercurrent, and most films tend to speak of their time, whenever they’re set. I just don’t think it’s overt.

    Hey, take them to The Killer Inside Me and see what happens! Seriously, really? I can’t remember much in the way of violence in either (nothing too bad, anyway) but I guess both are a bit hi-octane for some…..

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