The film rest heavily on Affleck’s performance and he is excellent in the role. On the surface Lou is mild mannered and a little naive and Affleck captures this brilliantly, aided by his youthful looks and constantly cracking voice. When Lou’s darker side is uncovered though Affleck also shines with a convincing and disturbing performance. Jessica Alba (Joyce) and Kate Hudson (Amy) are good in their respective roles, although their characters are somewhat one-dimensional and they have little dialogue or action. This is not actually a criticism of the film although it may sound like one; as I will discuss further this is important as they are how Lou sees them, to him they are one-dimensional and their apparent lack of depth is because Lou is unable to see their depth.
Early in the film Lou is sent to the home of prostitute Joyce to ‘deal with her’ in whatever way he sees fit, but instead he falls in love or what his idea of love is anyway. Torn between this ‘bad girl’ and the good girl, his fiancée Amy (Kate Hudson), and haunted by memories of his mother and his desires to live up to his image of his father, Lou begins a dark spiralling downward journey. His violent behaviour escalates and, despite the hints that he has always been troubled with violent appetites, his behaviour becomes more erratic and the cruelty and ugly urges he harbours within come spilling out.
The film is a first person narrative about a brutal misogynistic killer and unsurprisingly, because of this, it has been contentious and controversial. Polarising festival audiences, The Killer Inside Me has drawn criticism for its brutal violence and alleged misogynism. Although a discussion of just the controversy is somewhat reductive I will refer to the reaction as it actually gives an interesting insight into the themes in the film and how they work with an audience.
The Killer Inside Me is unflinching in its portrayal of violence against women and although it was not quite as bad or constant as I had expected given the hyperbolic statements from the film’s accusers, the two main scenes of violence are appalling to watch and it is hard not to look away. This is not a negative criticism of the film though, I am sure this is the intention of Winterbottom and of Thompson’s novel, and this intention is not a callous misogynistic one. The film attempts to explore this character but this exploration needs to be uncompromising and therefore deeply uncomfortable. Lou Ford is a despicable human being and the kind of person I hope I never have to meet. He is therefore not the kind of person anyone would like to associate themselves with and they certainly wouldn’t want to sympathise with him, empathise with him or worse still be him.
This though is the crux of what I liked so much about the film and why I think it is so successful. Lou Ford is the protagonist of the film and we as audiences have been trained over years of cinema going to follow the protagonist and feel what they are feeling, seeing the film world through their eyes. There are obviously exceptions to this but the way the film crafts Lou as a protagonist helps this association and the voiceover and moments where Affleck actually subtly looks at the camera help include you in his twisted life.
It is not just through the voiceover that Lou narrates the film, there is a sense that the events unfolding are filtered through his twisted view. There is a moment early on, for instance, where Joyce very quickly shifts in the way she is reacting to Lou from disgust to desire and what at first could be read as an odd character moment or sloppiness on the part of the screenwriter is actually something much more fascinating. Is this just how Lou sees the situation? Is Lou an unreliable narrator and is what we are seeing, and experiencing, actually what it is like to be Lou Ford?
I do not think these questions have simple answers and I do not think the film makes a definite statement as to whether what we see is the truth or Lou’s perception of it, but the questions are raised. This concept could be considered a ‘cop out’ in a lesser film, something akin to “it was all in his head after all”, but The Killer Inside Me is smarter than that. What this conceit actually achieves is a strong character bond as we not only see Lou telling his life story but we get to experience living his life. This is, unsurprisingly, not a pleasant experience but if you are willing, it is a rewarding and fascinating one.
I feel that most accusations of misogyny and casual violence against The Killer Inside Me are born out of this horribly uncomfortable feeling of inhabiting a disgusting human being and not liking the way that makes you feel. The Killer Inside Me offers a glimpse inside the mind of a cruel misogynist and brutal murderer and if you believe it, feel it and don’t like it then the film has succeeded not failed.
The Killer Inside Me is currently showing in UK cinemas.
You can hear me discussing the film further (and the Q&A I attended with Michael Winterbottom) on the Mouth Off Podcast which you can find here.