The Killer Inside Me is a mess. It’s got a rushed third act, it meanders, and isn’t as tight as it needs to be. In spite of all of this, it still works far more well than it should. With a handful of well thought-out ideas, sharp direction (by Michael Winterbottom) and an excellent performance at the head by Casey Affleck. Winterbottom’s look into the world of sociopath is extremely engaging – also totally horrifying.
This is a film that’s been a full-on controversy since its debut at Sundance, and polarizing reaction won’t soon change. This is a monster story that you’re either onboard with or you’re not. The violence is brutal as it should be, considering the dark themes and protagonist. Not to sound like an annoying David Lynch fan, but this is a film that seems to be misunderstood by many. People have been claiming it’s sexist and nothing but exploitative. It isn’t.
The fact is, it’s got a misogynist as a lead. Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) sees the world the way he wants to see it. It’s a monstrous view and that’s what it’s intended to be. All the men in town are either cops or hard-talking individuals. There’s only three prominent females present here: the prostitute Joyce (Jessica Alba), Lou’s fiance Amy (Kate Hudson), and Lou’s mother. His mother is the starting point of his out-view. He grows up thinking it’s okay to treat woman a certain way and gets a perception of what they are: nothing. He learns to despise them. He is a sexist, but the film itself is not. Not once does Winterbottom try to show Lou in a sympathetic light. Ford is a monster who’s cold, calculating and destroys nearly everything around him – most notably, the ones that actually care for him. We see the world through his eyes.
Affleck is chilling as Ford. He paints a subtle portrayal of a killer on a downward spiral. Throughout the film you feel Ford’s calculating and manipulative nature. Affleck himself seems like a typecast considering how stone cold he is sometimes. He paints the fake side of Ford convincingly and once he delves into his deadly tendencies, it’s as shocking as it should be. Winterbottom seems to be saying – even with the title – that everyone has a darker side deep seeded in our sub-conscious. We all have a monstrous sides – not a particularly original theme – but Ford gives into it. In fact, Ford seems to be aware of how truly awful his acts are. At the end, it’s sort of obvious. There’s lines scattered throughout that point to this fact and Affleck plays all of this in the most low-key fashion possible. It’s a great, understated performance.
All of this makes for a great film and yet, sadly, it doesn’t reach its fullest potential in the end. The script (by Winterbottom and John Curran) is extremely uneven. It rushes right from the beginning with Lou and Joyce’s relationship. It’s fantastic how it throws you right into Lou’s world and how everyone seems to think he couldn’t harm a fly, but the film sets up that relationship right-away and it’s a pivotal aspect to the film and to Lou’s mindset. When it finally reaches the climax, it doesn’t have as much impact as it should, since it all hinges on Joyce. It falls flat and even comes off a bit ridiculous since that dynamic is underwritten. The third act really loses steam even with the excellent Bill Pullman showing up to deliver a rather bizarre performance.
Despite the disjointed narrative, The Killer Inside Me gets so much right. It’s ambitious and never pulls its punches. Many will continue to find it “appalling” for all the wrong reasons, but that’s to be expected. It’s a film that takes risks, and for that, it deserves credit.