Monday, 14 June 2010

The Killer Inside Me - A Review, Not A Confession

I'm not entirely sure why, but I've wanted to see The Killer Inside Me for a few weeks now. I saw it had garnered a few decent reviews, and seeing as how serial killer films are something of a specialty for me (my undergraduate dissertation compared three of Hitchcock's serial killers with that of contemporary cinema), I like to see them when I can. The only problem is, having forced myself to sit through a hundred and nine minutes of dross, all I want to do is hurl more than harsh language at Hollywood.

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.


Sophie said...

Duly noted and crossed off my to-do list.

Icy Sedgwick said...

There's a tiny possibility I went a tad OTT in this review, but I cannot state strongly enough just how damned dull it was.

Mono S. said...

It sounds a bit like the film doesn't have the whole "Lou as a narrator making shit up" thing that the book does. Judging by your confused reaction to the way Joyce acts toward him.

I still haven't seen the film, of course, but I will eventually. Or maybe I'll just watch Mr Brooks again!


Icy Sedgwick said...

She literally goes from him beating her arse to kissing him. WHY?!

Mono S. said...

Because she'd watched Blade Runner too often and thought that was how it was done..


Icy Sedgwick said...

Poor woman.

Mono S. said...

Except for the Blade Runner watching part :P

Especially since she saw it decades before it was made, and thus, was obviously visited by Doc Brown sometime between Back To The Future and Back To The Future Pt2.


Alan W. Davidson said...

Nice rant. I gladly watch reruns of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman in Seven when on TV. I think that was one of the smartest serial killer movies in a long time.

afullnessinbrevity said...

I like a film where the madman's logic and ethical value system actually makes sense when looked at from a sideways glance. I like that kind of logic. Not really a horror film buff, but the character of The Joker in the most recent Batman film made a lot of sense in some ways.
"Even a Eurovision voting card for the UK gets more points than this." - this made me laugh out loud.
Wouldn't mind reading your dissertation now after reading this review.
Adam B

Icy Sedgwick said...

Well in my dissertation, I compared Shadow Of A Doubt with From Hell, Psycho with Silence of the Lambs, and Frenzy with American Psycho. God, I love film studies. I still maintain that Shadow Of A Doubt is a fine serial killer film, but it usually gets overlooked.

As to Se7en, yes, it's another damn fine serial killer film, especially as it proves that you DON'T need to do the film from the killer's point of view. In some cases, it works a lot better when it's not.

I think the thing that bugs me is when serial killers are given some kind of horrible event in their past to explain their monstrosity. Michael Myers is all the more chilling because he commits his first murder as a child, for no particular reason. The lack of reason implies true madness, whereas some kind of pathetic reliance on some kind of awful motivation simply excuses the killer from any kind of responsibility. i.e. It's not his fault, he was abused, etc.

Anton Gully said...

Skipping a lot in case of spoilers!!! This is a film? I'm on page 185 of the book and it just wrapped a fist round my entrails and squeezed like letting go wasn't an option. I was reading it in work during lunch break, but I brought it home to finish this weekend. It's inspired the hell out of me. Nearly sixty years old and it's one of the freshest books I've read.

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