Last night I finally saw Michael Winterbottom‘s The Killer Inside Me. It’s not a “bad” film, but the savage beatings of Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson are certainly sickening and easy to loathe. Most of the audience was in a lousy mood to begin with because the stars arrived so late and spent so much time on the red carpet that the film started 45 minutes late, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch to tip over into animosity.
On top of which I was strongly rooting for Casey Affleck‘s chilly-eyed psychopathic lawman to get caught, especially with his mumbled Texas accent making at least half of what he said indecipherable, which goaded me into wishing it would all end sooner rather than later.
I know the game that this movie is playing. It’s saying “are you going to be a moral milquetoast and take offense at some deeply offensive depictions of violence, or are you going to be cool and get beyond that?” To hell with that game. I am not and never will be cool when it comes to films of this sort, and I’m rather proud of that fact. And I don’t care how milquetoasty that makes me sound.
This isn’t some icky piece of exploitation or some Eli Roth butcher movie. Winterbottom has gone down the wrong path here, but he’s an accomplished director who deserves basic respect. The problem is that The Killer Inside Me is fairly flat and mundane except for the beating scenes and, okay, maybe one or two of the sex scenes. It isn’t especially scary or humorous or suspenseful or thrilling — I know that much. All it allows you to do, really, is wallow in repulsion. Okay, repulsion mixed with amazement.
Just because Winterbottom and co-screenwriter John Curran have closely adhered to the original Jim Thompson novel doesn’t mean it has some special integrity badge. All this means is that they’ve closely adhered to the original Jim Thompson novel, and so what? Thompson is renowned as a great pulp-noir writer, yes, and this movie will make whatever sense of decency you carry around in your heart melt into stomach bile and leak out your anus and dribble down your leg.
All any of this means is that various producers managed to raise the cash on the names of the three stars, and IFC decided to distribute and here we all are with Jessica Alba’s pus and mucus and blood splattered all over our laps….what did we do to deserve this?
I’m amazed, really amazed, that the producers of this thing — Chris Hanley, Andrew Eaton and Bradford L. Schlei along with exec producers Lilly Bright, Chad Burris, Randolf S. Mendelsohn, Jordan Gertner and Fernando Sulichin, co-executive producer Tricia Vam Klaveren and co-producer Susan Kirr — thought it might actually generate interest or sell tickets. Well, it did generate interest on the part of the super-ballsy IFC Films, and it’ll probably sell tickets to the nocturnal Quasimodo types.
Anyone who sees The Killer Inside Me and says to a friend or a girlfriend, “Hey, I want to take you to this cool new noir about this mumbly Texas cop who shuffles around and beats his mistress and his wife to death when things boil to a head”…the person who wants this film to be seen by others is extremely hip and fundamentally diseased. They are a carrier of some kind of spiritual plague with really, really sophisticated taste buds….ooh, yeah.
I suppose that’s a kind of selling point if you want to be perverse about it. I don’t know if it’s an Antichrist-type thing, but maybe it is. The problem is that it’s not sick-funny — no talking fox, no afterbirth. Maybe IFC could go with a slogan that says “are you fucked up enough to want to see The Killer Inside Me?” Hey, I know — maybe the Criterion Collection could release a Killer DVD sometime next fall? Get some high-falutin’ Lincoln Center-affiliated film snob to write the liner notes. The Criterion guys, trust me, are perverse enough. Because you really do need to be a terminal film dweeb and suffering from lupus of the soul to “enjoy” a film like this.
It was clear during the Glenn Kenny-moderated q & a that the audience was doing everything it could do to suppress its dislike of the film for the sake of politeness. I wasn’t convulsing with hatred for this thing, although I was certainly sickened. Here’s the irony: I had heard and read so many ugly warnings that Killer failed to live up to expectations. I was saying to myself, “Gee, this isn’t that disgusting. Well, it is but I’m able to watch it with a certain dispassion. I thought I was going to be retching in the aisles.”
Screen International‘s David D’Arcy wrote last January that Winterbottom’s “staggeringly violent” adaptation of Jim Thompson’s 1952 novel “reaches a new extreme in the cinematic depiction of a psychopathic murderer. It is hard to watch — and for some will be impossible — regardless of any psychological logic behind its many killings. Audiences up to their ears in serial killers may enter this film thinking they already know them all. Winterbottom will prove them wrong.”
The video below the first paragraph is actually part 2 but I ran it first because it leads off with Affleck talking about why he wanted to do the film. He basically said that he was impressed by the fact that both the Thompson novel and the screen adaptation offered a psychological explanation for his character’s murderous acts. Hudson decided to do the film, apparently, because she hasn’t made a quality film along the lines of Almost Famous in ten years and her name is synonymous with “empty formulaic chick flick” so she figured what the hell, do an artistically downbeat film for a change. I don’t know why Alba agreed to do this, but I’ll bet she regrets it on some level.