The Killer Inside Me


Written by Limara Salt
07 Monday 07th June 2010

Before Michael Winterbottom had the chance to answer any questions levelled at him after its world premiere at Sundance, a mortified woman made her feelings clear. "I don't understand how Sundance could book this movie! How dare you? How dare Sundance?" Over a year later, Winterbottom must be getting used to this reaction. The film has just been released in the UK and several national newspapers are more than willing to line up and attack what they perceive to be a misogynistic film.


Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) has everybody fooled in a small Texas town. He is patient, thoughtful and to some even a little slow and boring. He takes pride in his work and is so slight he is visibly offended by even the slightest profanity. Unbeknownst to everyone, he is also a psychopath. Deeply scared by a childhood that is shown in a series of fleeting flashbacks, his pent up “sickness” is slowly released in a series of devastating and hard to watch scenes. The scenes in particular that have given the film an instant notoriety, are when Ford sadistically punches his prostitute girlfriend Joyce (Jessica Alba) to death, kicks his other girlfriend Amy’s (Kate Hudson) body whilst she’s down and watches has the life slowly drains out of her.


Winterbottom has expressed his astonishment at the reaction. “"I've been a little surprised that people have found it so hard to watch the two main violent scenes... I don't think they are that visually graphic compared to other films." This is true but even the most hardened cinemagoer may find it difficult to see Alba’s face beaten to a pulp in a serious of un-cut and unrelenting shots. Winterbottom does have a point when referring to violence in other films. Nobody would want to become so desensitised to violence that watching a woman whisper “Why?” whilst her lover beats her to death fails to move us, but some may be missing the point of the film.



Extreme violence in mainstream action films may be frequent but it is also stupidly unrealistic. Whereas in the Die Hard series we may totally believe – and enjoy – a 50 year old John McClane diving out of a speeding car and landing on concrete with nothing but a few grazes to show for it, a film like this needs to have a different effect on viewers. Ford is not a cartoonish everyman but a sadistic psycho whose actions are supposed to mortify and disgust.


But it’s specifically the violence against women that has left some questioning the aim of this film. The violence against men is usually with a gun – instantaneous and seemingly painless whilst the women are killed slowly and devastatingly. Several walk outs have occurred at screenings (including the one this writer attended) and many gasped and flinched during the pivotal scenes. Comparisons with several other controversial films that include a predatory sexual violence have arisen but the Pavlovian reaction has left gaping holes in these arguments. The 9 minute, unbroken rape scene in Irreversible (2002) led most to declare it the most walked out film of the year, whilst Pier Paolo Pasolini’s last film Salò is still banned in some countries to this day, namely because of its sexual depravity and graphic violence.


But are the comparisons valid? They have similarities as to how the violence towards women is presented – quite, calm, un-cut and unflinching – but the point is to see violence that is affective and un-sanitised. Stanley Kubrick once said that Thompson’s novel was “probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind he had ever encountered.” It would be impossible to effectively convey this to the screen without displaying his actions in the most unrelenting manner. Books allow the reader to use their imagination whereas the medium of film has to visually depict it in order to render any sort of reaction.


Whilst the debate may rumble on indefinitely and get re-hashed the moment any film features a woman on the receiving end of unflinching violence, it’s worth remembering that above all else, The Killer Inside Me is a stylish, pulp noir driven by a astonishing central turn from Casey Affleck.

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