The Killer Inside Me may be the darkest film noir ever made. Adapted from a novel by Jim Thompson, it’s set in a small Texas oil town in the early ’50s, and it’s got a main character — I hesitate to call him a hero — whose hidden impulses look, for a while, as if they might speak to the audience’s collective fantasies of bad behavior. Casey Affleck, acting with the same ambiguous baby-faced twistedness he brought to The Assassination of Jesse James…, plays Lou, a deputy sheriff who is sent to kick a prostitute (Jessica Alba) out of town and winds up in a violently charged sexual relationship with her. They smack each other around (in and out of bed), and you can just about smell the nastiness. It’s exciting to see a noir in which that erotic steam-heat madness is now made explicit.
Then Lou, to settle an old score, commits a double homicide. And the way he does it, turning one victim’s face into a pulped punching bag, is beyond shocking. In their midnight-of-the-soul way, the old noirs were romances, with men drawn to violence through love. Lou, however, isn’t driven by love. If anything, he’s repulsed by it — he’s the kind of self-involved sociopath who might scare Tom Ripley. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, The Killer Inside Me has an artful sun-and-dust realism, but as Lou betrays, lies, and murders again, our identification with him is slowly severed. The film doesn’t suck us into a vortex — it leaves us on the outside, staring and a bit dumbfounded. B-