Film review: The Killer Inside Me

First published in the July 2010 issue of the Hearing Times

Before I went to see this film, every review I read spoke about two controversial scenes of violence towards it’s female characters. This led to a debate in the media: is the film misogynistic or not? I’d organised for 30 deaf people to watch it with subtitles and – worried that I might be held responsible for a collective trauma – decided to warn everyone about the violence before we went in.

The film – adapted from a book of the same name – is by prolific British director Michael Winterbottom. It’s a stylish, glossy film where everyone is sharply dressed and the characters seem familiar from movies we’ve seen before: an officer of the law; a dodgy construction magnate; a beautiful woman living on the wrong side of the tracks. The story is told from the point of view of Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), at first glance an unremarkable deputy sheriff in a small Texan town in the 1950s.

The trick the film pulls off is making us feel like we’re on safe ground. But when Lou begins a sadomasochistic affair with a prostitute, his repressed desires are awakened to devastating effect. When he kills her it is with punches from his bare hands – it’s gory and the scene lasts a long, long time. Then later he kills his girlfriend in the same horrific way.

Some of the reviews have said that the film never shows what makes Lou the killer he is, but I disagree. In several flashback scenes there are strong hints that experiences in his childhood led directly to his actions in the present day. However the film sends out several unsettling messages. Both the prostitute and girlfriend do not respond with a look of anger or hatred to being hit by him; they seem to love him just the same. The film even manages to end (spoiler alert) without the satisfaction of seeing Lou suffering for his actions.

It’s hard to watch a film where the main character is not only a killer but doesn’t seem to care about anything. Lou doesn’t care who he hurts, who he kills, or how disturbed people are by his actions in his small town. In presenting him like this, Winterbottom manages to shock us by showing us something of truth in the guise of a film noir.

How many films do we see where a murderer looks evil rather than handsome? And how often is an evil character presented as either deceptively charming or hyper-nasty, while in real life, seemingly normal people commit terrible atrocities, then – protected by their position within their communities – get away with their actions for far longer than most films would allow? In real life abuse and murder is grim. In real life, men hurt women. And it really hurts. This is what this film shows.

The Killer Inside Me is hard to watch. But the film is not, in my view misogynistic. The film is controversial because Winterbottom shows us something true in a film world where we often see gruesome scenes without feeling disturbed. We’re so used to these scenes that we are no longer affected by them.

In this film the acts of violence and murder seem horrific, and for that reason, we don’t like it. Maybe that’s how it should be once in a while.

Interview: Stephen Collins, filmmaker

First published in the July 2010 issue of the Hearing Times

This month I met Stephen Collins, a young deaf director and actor who is soon to be the busiest man in deaf drama. Stephen has just been awarded £5000 to make his first film, and has also been cast in two plays.

What was it like growing up deaf? I was the only deaf person in my family, and grew up using sign and speech. At first I went to a mainstream school, then I went to a deaf grammar school. Growing up, I felt like I was part of both worlds.

You’re a very outgoing person – were you the same as a child? I had a short attention span when I was young and trouble with the teachers for being cheeky! Then I got involved in drama and played leading roles in school plays when I was 7, and that calmed me down.

What was the first film you enjoyed? Snow White! I really liked Dopey the dwarf, and later played him in a school play! I got in trouble for acting part of the film out that wasn’t in the script…
How did you first become interested in filmmaking? My sister had a bulky old camera and we used to make horror films at the weekends! Then I went on to study film history in Preston at UCLAN, which was a real turning point because I didn’t study drama or media at school.

What did the course teach you? We learned about the hidden meaning in films – watching old classics like ‘Psycho’ and other Hitchcock films, and war and gangster movies. The only problem with the course was it wasn’t practical! We didn’t actually make any films.

What did you do after university? I was out of work for a year! I went to America for 3 months where my Mum was working. While she was out I’d filming myself acting with a small camera. I made 7 or 8 short films, one of them was a horror film where I played 4 characters. I was a bit of a one man band!

When did you work on your first funded film? When I got back I was camera man and co-director for a £1000 film called ‘The Tape’ which was made as part of Young Deaffest, a training scheme for young deaf filmmakers. After that I got my first media job, working with a company called Deafeatures.

What was that like? It was great – I worked with deaf professionals like Bim Ajadi who gave me lots of advice, and I worked with other new filmmakers, like Ted Evans and Giles Bowman. We all visited Deaffest in November 2009 and it felt like a new filmmaking movement, we all shared ideas and supported each other – it was really exciting!

You got turned down for a funding scheme last year. How did you respond to that? Two of my friends got through so it was difficult. I had finished my contract at work and I really wanted to carry on making films, I didn’t want to stop. So I decided to help them. I worked on 3 films in one week! I was a production assistant, a runner, whatever they needed me to do, which helped me get more experience.

Then you turned it around in true Hollywood style by winning the Ben Steiner Bursary – how did that feel? Wow! It was a dream come true. I’m really excited about making the vision come true – my own idea for the first time! The film’s called ‘Luke Starr’ and it’s about a man with different personalities. Hopefully I can put everything I’ve learned into practice!

You’ve also just been cast in two plays. Do you see yourself as an actor or a director? I’m probably more of a director and filmmaker but I’ve always enjoyed acting – I’m not shy! So hopefully I’ll continue to do both.

Do you have any advice for budding filmmakers out there? If you see an opportunity, grab it! Don’t give up, and keep going!