There are a myriad of ways to approach the serial killer film. You've got your slashers (or post-slasher...or even neo-slasher), your exploitation flicks, your psychoanalytical films...amazingly, The Killer Inside Me fails on every count. Even a Eurovision voting card for the UK gets more points than this. Casey Affleck's poor imitation of an upstanding Texas gent grates at every turn, and any film that stars both Kate Hudson AND Jessica Alba should already be on my avoid list. Why? Well they're two actresses who are to serious acting what a cheese grater is to a balloon.
The Killer Inside Me, for those of you who might vaguely care (and I pray you don't), is set in the 1950s, in a small west Texas town. Casey Affleck plays Lou Ford, the unassuming deputy sheriff. Generically Southern and almost instantly forgettable, Ford has no sooner started batting those baby blues of his, than he's visiting the local prostitute, Joyce (Alba) and beating her up. Most women would go, "Er, excuse me, get out of my house, you filthy arsehole" after being violently assaulted, but not Joyce. They embark on an illicit affair, with Joyce (almost painfully predictably) putting pressure on Lou to leave town with her. Elmer, the son of a wealthy local construction tycoon, is in love with Joyce, and when his father offers to pay Joyce off, they initially plan to steal the money and go. Lou decides he'd be better off killing both of them, and just continuing about his business. Why? Because he's "crazy". Cue the eye rolling. Apparently, doing something for no logical reason constitutes madness. If Spock's reaction is anything to go by, then Captain Kirk must be the biggest psychopath in pop culture.
But I digress. Things go slightly awry, and Lou finds himself killing people to cover up the fact that he's killing people. Trouble is, that's actually logical in a freaky kind of way, which just proves that Lou isn't as mad as he thinks he is. With the local DA Howard Hendricks (Simon Baker, better known as TV's The Mentalist) breathing down his neck, Lou starts to unravel. Or does he? Well no, not really. He just gets even more dull. Director Michael Winterbottom seems be aiming for the kind of 'quietly understated' pace that gets described as 'magnetic' or 'powerful', only to have it end up 'dull' and 'unappealing'. The film coasts along to its inevitable conclusion, and by the time they reach the 'dramatic finale', you'll be left wondering who got turned down for the role for Casey Affleck to end up with it. Winterbottom meanders along, punctuating the boredom with tedious scenes of women being beaten up. Given we never see Lou's violence towards males, one can't help wondering if this says more about the director than his main character.
Having the serial killer himself narrate the film is nothing new. I'd argue that the best example is still American Psycho, in the way Mary Harron manages to blend graphic violence with understated menace. You couldn't make the film without Patrick Bateman's narration. His inner monologues about business cards, hair cuts and skincare routines underscore the senseless nature of his savagery, contrasting his superficial obsession with his total lack of human emotion (except, as he admits himself, for 'greed, envy and disgust'). This link between the killer and the audience was originally intended to be a way of forcing us to rethink cinematic boundaries, although now it has become a 'controversial' tactic aimed at putting the viewer inside the serial killer's world, forcing a collusion with him. The problem is, this will never be anywhere near as shocking as the POV shots in Peeping Tom, and that came out in 1959!
As it stands, serial killers may be attractive (Patrick Bateman), charming (Hannibal Lecter), unknowable (Michael Myers) or even funny (Freddie Krueger) but they CANNOT be dull. Unfortunately, Lou Ford is exactly that. I have a feeling Affleck is aiming for 'the boy next door gone bad', but no one will ever be able to nail that quite as well as one of cinema's most iconic serial killers - Norman Bates. We didn't need any narration, or POV shots. We just needed those subtle facial tics, that nervous behaviour around Marion, his calm appearance in the aftermath of the murders - and the final reveal. Nothing fancy, just solid storytelling.
I conclude this rant/review with one very simple thought. If you really want to watch a serial killer movie that is both well-made and quietly understated, you could do no better than seeking out Mr Brooks. Ignore the fact it stars Kevin Costner - it's everything The Killer Inside Me wishes it was, but sorely isn't.