'The Killer Inside Me': Appropriately Disgusting

Rachel Michaels

The controversy around The Killer Inside Me's unflinching portrayal of violence is misplaced -- it is the use of violence as slick entertainment and a means to self-reflection that is truly disturbing.

The Killer Inside Me

Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Elias Koteas, Ned Beatty, Tom Bower, Simon Baker, Bill Pullman
Rated: NR
Studio: IFC Films
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-06-18 (Limited release)
UK date: 2010-06-08 (General release)

Michael Winterbottom’s latest film, an adaptation of Jim Thompson’s 1952 pulp novel The Killer Inside Me, has been the focus of controversy since its initial screening at Sundance. Its graphic portrayal of murders by the film’s main character, Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) has garnered reactions from “misogynist” to “feminist", with arguments centering around the realism of the violence. The more “realistically” violence is portrayed, the less appealing and sexy it is. Stylized violence, whether from the rapidly-edited action movie or the over-the-top horror film, is so unreal it doesn’t leave much of a mark.

To its credit, The Killer Inside Me does not treat its two most brutal sequences as entertainment, but as the horrible acts they are meant to portray. The violence is neither glamorized, nor played for laughs. Its main ingredient is sexual violence, but does not feature rape or nudity. The sex and the violence, both intensely filmed, are kept to separate scenes but are inextricably linked in the mind of the main character.

Unlike most films set in the past, The Killer Inside Me is not a comment on its time or location (1950’s West Texas); its story seems to exist in a vacuum. It is not an analysis of 1950’s America; it is not political or nostalgic. It does not use its violence as a metaphor for a time, a place, social structures, or human nature.

This distinguishes it from another recent arthouse film featuring far more violence and degradation, but has been almost universally applauded -- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The Swedish film’s voyeuristic attention to the acts and threats of sexual violence reveal them as entertainment, used to advance the plot between the two main characters. Yes, the film seems to say, all this violence is shocking and terrible, but those rapes and murders are just symbols of upper-class Swedish society. They’re not, you know, “real", and therefore constitute an evening’s entertainment.

The Killer Inside Me resembles very little that other recent adaptation of a 20th century Texan serial killer novel, the Coens’ No Country for Old Men. Winterbottom’s film does not contain one shred of humor, not even the “black humor” that is so often used to lighten the tension between heavy scenes. This unrelenting seriousness makes for unpleasant viewing, to be sure, but a film about a serial killer has every reason to be unpleasant.

The Killer Inside Me does share the Coens’ famous device of not displaying a key plot point (in both cases, the murder of an important character), drawing the audience’s attention to our own desire to see the bloody sequences play out. This is one of the few similarities between the films, as No Country for Old Men uses its creepy, largely non-specified violence to comment on The Meaning of Life Itself and the human condition. It makes for compelling storytelling, but surely using a serial killer as a plot device to provoke audience self-understanding is more cynical than using a serial killer to illustrate the sickening acts of serial killing.

The uses of violence as entertainment, as humor, as voyeurism, is much more disturbing than the graphic scenes featured in The Killer Inside Me. Violence should be repugnant and disgusting on screen, just like it is in real life.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.