Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson
"Nobody has it coming. That's why nobody can see it coming." The words of Lou Ford (Affleck), a straight-up man of the town, the Deputy Sheriff no less, who never shouts, always tips his hat to a lady, and never insults a man's mother. But behind his softly spoken facade of justice, he has another face: a sociopathic beater of women, and murderer to boot. This is his film. And it's as uncomfortable as it sounds.
Too uncomfortable for some, in fact - a lot has been made of its violent content, labelling the film and its director, the ever-prolific (and often polemic) Brit Michael Winterbottom, as misogynistic. These detractors are wrong, but a fair accusation from a glimpse at the movie's surface.
Lingering on the moments where Ford's fist pummels his victim's face into a pumpkin, the 50s noir narrative unfolds unsettlingly close to its protagonist. He looks with foul disdain upon the small-town folk around him, including the women who seem to subjugate themselves to his sadistic sexual habits. But Winterbottom never condones his worldview; characters react in contrast to Ford's nasal narration, building up a disjointed perspective which never slips, even during the film's moral conclusion. Like Hitchcock's Norman Bates, this psycho is skewed in the head. He's no hero.
The cast help balance out the film's troubling content. Affleck has an undeniable charisma on screen - his skull-like smile and quiet, creepy voice ensure Ford's killer is engaging but never likeable. As knocked-about prostitute Joyce, Jessica Alba is a complex, bruised individual, well-matched by Kate Hudson's Amy, a wholesome girlfriend-next-door with an apparent acceptance of their relationship's rough intercourse.
Ford's female victims are utterly sympathetic creatures, beaten to a pulp by his psychotic male desires - his motives are briefly alluded to in flashback, leaving most of the work to Affleck's eery and unstable performance. Thanks to the realistic supporting cast and setting, it's a pretty world on the outside, but pretty ugly within. A cool and cruel atmosphere hangs over the stylish visuals, heightening every punch and kick as the killing spree spreads across the town. Never dismissing the violence as acceptable, glamourous or somehow entertaining, Winterbottom wisely pitches his crime drama at a disturbing and accurate level. Any sentiment on show is either fleeting or affecting, but the acts themselves never feel justified.
A gripping and unnerving account of one man's cold-blooded mind, The Killer Inside Me makes for harsh viewing. Hard-core, but high quality.