Sundance Buzz: The Killer Inside Me

What Antichrist was to Cannes last year, The Killer Inside Me appears to be for Sundance 2010. Michael Winterbottom, not a stranger to controversy following his art/porn examination 9 Songs in the past, directs Casey Affleck in an adaptation of Jim Thompson’s novel about a sociopathic deputy sheriff and the people he leaves in his wake.

The reaction has been ripped in two between those fascinated by the questions and challenges it poses and those repulsed by everything it appears to be positing. It’s already provoked CHUD’s Devin Faraci to write a column about how the film has sparked a debate once more about depicting violence in movies. New York Magazine’s Vulture blog has described it as ‘Antichrist meets Precious meets No Country for Old Men’. Even the Daily Mail has got its teeth stuck in.

The scene causing the most consternation involves the brutal beating of Jessica Alba with her face reduced to pulp.

Jay A Fernandez at The Hollywood Reporter’s description goes thus:

In Michael Winterbottom’s “The Killer Inside Me,” Jessica Alba is pulverized, fist to face, fist to face, fist to poor pretty face, by Casey Affleck for a good three minutes or so. Until her eyes are swollen shut and part of her face has been smashed away, exposing her jaw. What one character later describes as ‘hamburger,’ ‘stewed meat.’

Todd McCarthy at Variety says:

Winterbottom’s presentation of the violence is blunt, direct and vivid enough to inflict winces, if not actual pain, on the audience; some will no doubt look away.

Cinema Blend’s Katey Rich is less kind:

The film’s violence is what’s got everyone talking, and while it’s debatable whether the movie shares Lou’s own misogyny, the camera does take a certain delight in shocking us by showing repeated shots of Jessica Alba’s face being beaten to pulp. When men are killed in the film they’re shot cleanly or dispatched with offscreen, but the women suffer brutally– and you have to wonder if Lou is the only one enjoying it.

Reportedly, Alba herself left the screening half way through. Winterbottom himself has defended the violence, saying: “When you read the book, it’s incredibly shocking… But the violence is supposed to be horrible.”

But there have been some positive reactions. IFC’s Alison Willmore tweeted: “THE KILLER INSIDE ME: Oh, it’s completely off its rocker and I love it. Casey Affleck kills, kills and kills, noir style. And Texan style.”

Daemon Movies wrote:

All and all, The Killer Inside Me is a brilliant movie with strong and believable characters and a powerful story. It is certainly not a movie for everyone, especially if you tend to be squeamish around violence, however I would recommend that you see it if you want to see some fantastic acting and a brilliant story.

But the majority of the criticism appears to be expressing discomfort and a sense that the film is more provocative than successful. Fernandez muses:

Does the violence work in the context of a deeper exploration of a character’s psyche, or that of society as a whole? Or is it displayed in a vacuum without any redeeming context to provide meaning to a viewer other than an indictment of their being willing to sit through it in the first place?

McCarthy, too, is mostly lukewarm on the actual quality of the film:

…Winterbottom cogently unfurls the sordid narrative, although, at least at the screening caught, some of the dialogue was unintelligible, either due to some mumble or slurred dialogue and/or undue amplification. Still, when compared with the many films noir made during the period when the novel was written, this “Killer” lacks punch, dynamism and genuinely seedy atmosphere; at the same time, it falls short of the sort of the rich texture, moodiness and interconnectedness of production values that mark the best contemporary period crime films…

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