Minor (first fifteen minutes) spoilers to follow – but nothing that will ruin the film.
Holy shit! Jessica Alba just had her face caved in, and some woman sitting next to me in the audience fainted to the floor like a sack of potatoes!
The selections for the horror program at the annual Tribeca Film Festival usually leaves genre fans wondering, “Who is picking these films?” – with perhaps the strongest reels in the last few years being MULBERRY STREET and HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. Enter now, Michael Winterbottom’s THE KILLER INSIDE ME – an adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel and remake of an obscure 1976 Stacy Keach film. It may be more crime drama than the horror we’re used to – but man, it truly sucker punches those who have no idea what they’re getting into.
Director Michael Winterbottom is better known for his award winning documentaries (THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO, IN THIS WORLD) but really showcased the fact that he is an intricate filmmaker with depth and a great perception of the first person narrative art – the entire experience being proposed with a simple cowboy one sheet and some retro costume photos. The end result is akin to BLUE VELVET, THE LOST, and AMERICAN PSYCHO, each in their psychotic character analysis and what I think will end up being equal cinematic respect among its peers.
THE KILLER INSIDE ME is an in depth story detailing the decomposition of a small town deputy sheriff, Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), and how his mind goes from simple, plain, and straight, to deeply disturbed, revenge bent, and purely devoid of morality. Upon the opening of the film, he is given the task of delivering a 24 get-out-of-town notice to local prostitute named Joyce (Jessica Alba), who has taken up sheets with Elmer, the local tycoon’s son.
This all starts to go wrong the moment Lou steps in the door, as a fiery, heated attraction begins to brew beneath the surface for the sheriff and the prostitute. The sex and violence makes for a sordid, two week relationship, until Joyce proposes that they get away together. She believes Elmer likes her so much that she’ll be able to dupe him out of ten thousand dollars, with which they can both get away with.
Thing is, life’s not that simple. Sheriff Lou Ford has it that tycoon Chester Conway (Ned Beatty) was responsible for his brother’s death back in the day, and the temptation of revenge is just too overwhelming for him to ignore. For underneath his calm, appeasing smile is a man that will stop at nothing, including turning face on love, cold 180 degrees, and executing a plan of vengeance against the Conway family that he would even use the sweetest women he ever met in his life as meat puppet tools. The extent of which can be called nothing else but psychotic, heartless, murderous behavior. Which leads us to why I divulged the first 15 minutes of the film – to discuss the elephant in the room.
Jessica Alba. It’s no secret that she is a woman that ascertains a certain level of “honor” in her roles, in that she doesn’t take to nudity, and having just given birth to her first child and being known for romantic films more so as of late, a role like this comes as quite a surprise. It even caused her to get up and leave her own premiere halfway through the film (and is also the reason I witnessed someone collapse, and the uproar of woman advocates during Q&A’s after the film).
We’re talking about the widely discussed scene where Affleck the sheriff slips on a leather glove, and coldly and calculatedly beats Jessica Alba’s character’s face in, blow by blow by merciless blow. After what begins as an artsy, film noir about cowboys and crime in the 50’s, suddenly you’re in the room with Joyce Lakeland watching her sweet little face get punched in, punch by punch, for about 20 shots. He stops every now and then, apologizing without emotion, her face looking more disfigured every few hits. “Why, baby…” she calmly mutters under her broken jaw. “I love you…”.
“I love you too honey,” but still punches, now even harder, until she is on the floor in a pool of blood with a gaping black hole in her unrecognizable face. It was like being in the room where a very violent crime went down. The way it was shot, you couldn’t look away, and you were trapped there until it was over. It made you feel cold in your stomach, and it made the average filmgoer keel. It was one of the most powerful and dark little scenes I’ve witnessed in a long time While THE KILLER INSIDE ME plays out like a CHINATOWN-esque cops and robbers period piece, its horrific moments are undeniably moving and brutal, therefore making it worthy of genre fans attention.
What plays out thereafter is the dismantling of Sheriff Lou Ford’s life, as he tries to balance his engagement with Kate Hudson, who knows him well and literally smells trouble, but still stands by his side. The whole town seems to know something, and Ford’s paranoia begins to take over, until, as per his motto, “You never see it coming,” the ending act of the film goes down in quite surprising and deadly fashion.
After its viewing at the Tribeca Film Festival, several audience members displayed their complete disgust and disrespect for Winterbottom who had so guiltlessly exploited violence against women in his film. Winterbottom explained, that unfortunately, back during earlier times, women were oppressed with violence quite more commonly, and that this story was an adaptation of a story of a man losing his mind during that period, so he was being true to the reflection of the fiction at hand. THE KILLER INSIDE ME was worthy of its attention as it stood – as a brilliantly acted period piece of crime and violence – but some of the audience headed into the screening were not genre familiar, and they were the ones that fell out. Don’t get me wrong – most horror fans won’t be moved to the point of feeling dizzy, but many will appreciate the power and darkness of the material at hand.
Final analysis: I like dark, powerful, stomach/heart wrenching films that move me in some sort of way. Seeing the cast (Affleck, Hudson, and Alba primarily) and hearing of a “film noir”, I was so discouraged going into this viewing that I had even thrown it onto Facebook that it was going to be hard to give this a fair review, considering how I was feeling going in. By the end, after the visceral uncomfortable hour and a half, and the passed out woman, I had to humbly admit to myself the gut feeling that THE KILLER INSIDE ME was going to end up one of my favorite films for the year. Catch this if you can when it makes its limited theatrical run in June of 2010.