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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…

Sundance Buzz: The Runaways

The vast majority of the buzz surrounding this movie is split across the fact that Kristen Stewart is in it and that she and Dakota Fanning kiss in the film. I’m not wholly sure what the buzz is around the latter, but it should surely be more controversy that salaciousness given that Fanning is only fifteen.

Cinematical’s Kevin Kelly dug the movie, with a pretty significant amount of praise in his review devoted to the performances by Stewart, Fanning and Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley. He describes the performances from all three as “powerful“, but asserts that Shannon “takes this movie, straps it to his back, and walks away with it completely“. On the two female leads:

Kristen Stewart steps out of her normal angsty girl act and nails down the punk rock, hard as nails Jett, and Fanning is equally as good with her disconnected portrayal of Currie, who is dealing with the fact that she’s abandoning her alcoholic father and her twin sister Marie (played as fraternal in the movie, although they were identical in real life) to embrace a life of rock and roll.

Sam Adams for IFC was less taken by the movie itself, but is also praising of the Stewart and Fanning performances:

As much as for its characters, “The Runaways” is a rite of passage for its stars: Fanning, attempting to move beyond her preternaturally placid juvenile roles, and Kristen Stewart, whose volcanic Joan Jett runs hotter than the brooding teens she’s played in, well, everything.

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir was again entertained, but felt that more was promised somewhere along the line: “[Director Floria] Sigismondi has made a straightforward rock ‘n’ roll biopic that’s fluid and exciting to watch, but clearly aspires to something more,” he says.

One dissenting voice comes from First Showing’s Alex Billington.

…I was completely unimpressed with Floria Sigismondi’s inability to handle the characters, the story, or the film at all. And despite having a good time watching concert scenes, I don’t have much else good to say about The Runaways. This was one of the first big let downs of Sundance for me and I was even looking forward to it.

So mostly love, especially for Fanning and Shannon, though Stewart also picks up quite a few plaudits. There seems a general agreement that it’s a little unfocused character-wise, but the performances do much to rectify these problems.

Antichrist Picked Up by IFC

Antichrist

IFC has picked up US distribution rights to Antichrist, Lars von Trier’s tilt at horror movie immortality and easily the most talked-about film from this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Antichrist, in short, follows the story of a couple, hit hard by the death of their child, who retreat to a cabin in the woods in which a great deal of trippy/disturbing occurences befall them.

The film has been a divider at the festival, drawing completely differing viewpoints critics, primarily shocked rather than negative, and even prompted the hyperbole-addicted Jeff Wells to proclaim this a “career embarrassment” for all involved.

Whether it is or not, this kind of film will generate publicity and curiosity. People, myself included, will be anxious to understand the kind of divisive choices Von Trier, a consciously-provocative filmmakers in even his calmest moments, has made to elicit such intense opinion from those to have seen the movie.

Additionally, IFC picked up the rights for Looking for Eric, the new film from Ken Loach starring the genius, the King, Eric Cantona.