The Killer Inside Me, the film in which Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson both get pummeled, graphically and at length, has screened at Sundance. "Disgusting!" yelled one woman—after several walkouts. What did director Michael Winterbottom have to say?
Not much, as it turns out. After an awkward silence, he said, "Next question?"
Well, there was a little more.
The film, based on a 1952 Jim Thompson novel that got inside the head of a brutal serial killer, stars Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, and Kate Hudson. A nearly-six-minute highlight reel released in November includes Affleck whipping Alba's bare butt with a belt, which segues into sex; later, in an extended scene that is partially shown in the video, he beats Alba's character to death, exposing the bones on her face in the process. (Another character likens her post-beating face to "hamburger meat.") There is apparently a scene where Hudson's character is similarly brutalized.
"That Lou's chief victims are women makes these attacks even harder to bear. It felt as though the whole of my row of seats was buckling under the sitters' collective discomfort," wrote The Guardian's Demetrios Matheou of the screening.
A rep for Jessica Alba denied widespread rumors that she walked out of the film halfway through out of disgust, telling USA Today that "Alba had seen the movie before, supports it, and only left midway to catch a return flight." But plenty of other people walked out. Others stayed, either because they liked the movie (Anne Thompson at IndieWIRE did) or because they wanted to hear Winterbottom explain (or justify) the film's graphic violence.
Audience members repeatedly prodded Winterbottom to provide some greater meaning or backstory that would help them accept what they had just suffered through. The director protested that, as in Thompson's novel, he wanted to explore the noir theme of "a sense of pleasure in the violence. The violence should be shocking."
Okay. So the violence is portrayed in a shocking, extended way because it is... shocking. He had a similar explanation for The Guardian:
"It's a brilliant book. And it is shocking. And I felt that we had to keep that element in the film," Winterbottom tells me later. "If you're going to tell a story told from the point of view of a killer who is crazy, and it's in that noir tradition anyway – a melodramatic, hardboiled kind of story – I think the audience should be shocked. If you make a film about murder that isn't shocking, that's far worse; there are too many films with violence for people to enjoy."
There's half an argument in there somewhere — that people "enjoy" violence when it's not shocking — but it doesn't really make any sense. The two sensations are obviously intimately linked, and critics of the film seem disgusted, in fact, that the film plays to the eroticization of violence by lingering over it and primarily focusing on it taking place on women's bodies. In this case, young, Hollywood-approved bodies.
Says Cinema Blend's Katey Rich, who unlike me has seen the film,
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 [Affleck's character] Lou is the only one enjoying it.
Some may love the Lynchian darkness at the heart of Killer Inside Me, but again, that's something that's been done to death. The movie doesn't just feel like punishment, but cliched punishment, and feels as nasty as the character it follows.
So yes, we've been down this road before, a game of midbrow shock cred, the same old shit masquerading as edgy. Brutal violence, delivered unblinkingly and repeatedly! Those oversensitive, possibly repressed ladies, kicking up a fuss again! And a director whose only intention seems to have been to drum up these same forces. Next.
Sundance Audience Shaken By Brutal "Killer" [THR]
The Killer Inside Me: The Andy Griffith Show Directed By Eli Roth [USAT]
How The Killer Inside Me Got Inside The Mind Of Michael Winterbottom [Guardian]