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.

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