The Killer Inside Me (2010, d. Michael Winterbottom)
I hate torture porn. That’s the name given to a popular horror sub-genre not far removed in style from what I thought were all called slasher movies. I also just picked up on the slingo “gore-nography.” That’s cute, but it doesn’t make me hate it any less. I hate the all the Strangers, and Saws, and Hostiles for their moral and artistic bankruptcy. Also, despite seeming on the surface to be just shocking and acquitting eew-gross-me-out fun, the fun is rife with conservative indoctrination on the profit in retribution, violence toward women, and conformity to traditional sex norms. The Killer Inside Me wasn’t deliberately created or marketed as torture porn. But the impression is much the same for me.
A rural county sheriff (Casey Affleck) sets up a blackmail scheme involving his prostitute girlfriend and the son of a rich local family. However, what’s slowly revealed is that the sheriff is double-crossing the players in the scheme for benefit of some personal revenge, and not the blackmail money. The sheriff, who has successfully portrayed himself as a mild-mannered young man with polite, Southern ideals, is also slowly revealed to be a complicated sociopath who methodically murders the witnesses in his plot. The idea is for Affleck to play a completely bland character (maybe too successfully) whose moral rheostat is broken. He is at once sympathetic to his victims, who are his lovers and friends, and ignorant of their well being. He is the masked psycho killer with a heart of gold.
I think the film itself has a kind of divided pathology. What we see superficially is a gritty, indy noir with first class actors and an established director. The source material is a Jim Thompson novel, an icon from pulp crime fiction. But what we get isn’t a great crime story. It’s indicated that the sheriff comes from an unexplored background of physical and sexual abuse, which I guess made him the monster he is. The back story around the blackmail plot is vague both in motivation and result. It’s not clear whether the sheriff is a hot boiler that has just erupted or if he is veteran of casually murdering anybody who gets in his way. If the later is so, the character is pretty sloppy about the trail of cinchy clues and discoverable corpses he leaves behind.
But all these unexplored streets are really just scenery for the real motivation of the film. It is, I think, to enjoy by proxy the images of a docile, somewhat sympathetic man graphically beat women to death with his bare hands. The film, in lacking other clear ambitions, doesn’t have much else going on. It has no address or resolution of its inner dichotomy, impulse versus self-restraint. As in torture porn, The Killer Inside Me takes no moral position on its violence or sexism. The killer gets to satiate his violent urges, act out his revenge fantasy, and is rewarded with the fulfillment of his psychotic death wish. Further, the film draws the audience into vicarious experience of the killer’s violent fantasies and ends with a near Bible lesson that acting out these impulses will be judged, as it is in the whole last scene, by the burning fires of Hell.