CONTAINS MAJOR, MAJOR SPOILERS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF REALLY HORRIBLE THINGS
This is one of those movies about which I end up feeling entirely ambivalent and unsure of what I felt - and yet immediately formed very firm opinions about it. Despite those strong feelings, it's one of those in-the-middle movies: not in a "well, it was okay" kind of a way, but more due to some very strong positives and equally strong negatives that more or less cancel each other out.
The Killer Inside Me is an adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel (which I haven't read), telling of smalltown deputy sherrif Casey Affleck who, far from being the nice, laid-back type he comes across as, is in reality a psychotic killer with a liking for smacking women around. In addition to his involvement with a local construction bigwig (the legendary Ned Beatty) who might have had something to do with the questionably accidental death of Affleck's adopted brother, there's local prostitute Jessica Alba, who apparently likes being smacked around as much as Affleck likes dishing it out. But once he's killed, he has to keep on killing to protect himself, no matter who it might be.
The positives are easy: it's well played, beautifully shot, with a selection of period music comprising much of the soundtrack that isn't a collection of pop hits of the time. The mood of the time and place is superbly caught. But there's one big, big negative - and here come the spoilers - which is the presentation of the violence, specifically against Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson (the latter as Affleck's childhood sweetheart and long-standing girlfriend).
The killing of Jessica Alba's character is unflinching, brutal, and goes on for longer than is really necessary, which means it does start to become gratuitous and I started to wonder exactly what that scene was doing there in that form, and what it was supposed to achieve. Obviously such a scene of despicable sadism wasn't there to turn the audience on, so it must have been there to show the Affleck character being turned on. It didn't achieve that, but it's the only explanation for that scene being there.
Comparison has been made with Gaspar Noe's frankly intolerable Irreversible, in which a single-shot rape scene runs for an uninterrupted nine minutes. What was achieved by that? I find the oft-stated justification for such techniques - that the director really wanted to convey just how awful and repulsive rape actually is - to be patronising and lecturing. We do know this already, we are quite capable of understanding this without having to sit through it in real time. In a similar way, we don't need to watch Jessica Alba being repeatedly punched in the face to get the message, and I'm not sure that Michael Winterbottom, Gaspar Noe or Meir Zarchi have any particlarly fresh insight into such things. Nor do we need to see the battered body of Kate Hudson lying on the floor, urinating in distress after Affleck has turned on her. I felt very uncomfortable with both scenes and I'm not convinced by the stated reasons for their inclusion. One of the most distressing rape sequences I can think of (and please don't think I've compiled some kind of Top Ten) occurs in the tedious The Great Ecstacy Of Robert Carmichael, and the act in question takes place in the next room; we hear the screams and laughter and cheers and sobbing while the camera remains fixed, pretentiously, on a TV set showing Tony Blair justifying the invasion of Iraq. But we see nothing of the rape, and it's the more harrowing for it.
In summary, it IS a film of two halves, and sadly the good work done in the bulk of the film is overshadowed by those two scenes. I do want to make it clear that if I'm going to see scenes of rape and abuse, I'd far rather have them show these acts as repugnant and vile and completely unacceptable, than as events of no lasting consequence or effect. But against this, there comes a time when you're just labouring the point and I feel that's what happened with those two scenes in The Killer Inside Me.