Jessica Alba's Face, Killer Inside Me Take Brutal Beating at Sundance Premiere

Post-screening Sundance Q&As are frequently gushy affairs, sometimes to the point of awkwardness. (At last night's The Runaways premiere, a Kristen Stewart fan wept as she laid her true feelings on the line for the actress, as a crowd of 1,270 strangers shifted uncomfortably in their seats.) But last night's The Killer Inside Me conversation veered off-script in a big way. The first question came from a woman in her 60s, who demanded to know how the film made it into the festival at all. She then proceeded to berate Sundance for the decision, her tirade going on for about 20 glorious seconds, during which it elicited some applause and far more jeers from the crowd. She then stormed out of the Eccles Theater. Director Michael Winterbottom, meanwhile, stood nonplussed at the dais. "Any ... other questions?" the moderator asked.

What then, was all the fuss about? Well, let's begin with Jessica Alba's murder, in which she endures the most brutal head trauma since Irreversible.


Killer is a faithful adaptation of pulp crime novelist Jim Thompson's novel from the early '50s. It's a story narrated by Lou Ford, a sociopathic West Texas sheriff's deputy who describes in vivid, stomach-churning detail the brutal murders he commits, usually against the women he's sleeping with. Casey Affleck plays Lou with the gentle, unblinking demeanor of a remorseless killer raised with small-town American values. ("Out here you're a man, a man and a gentleman, or you aren't anything. And God help you if you're not," he explains, in one of many passages lifted directly from the book.) Affleck uses his pretty, porcelain features to his advantage, a mask that can both draw in women and deflect suspicion among the locals.

He's dispatched early on to run a prostitute (Jessica Alba) out of town who's taken up with the son of the local real estate tycoon (Ned Beatty). Before long the two are engaged in a passionate love affair fueled by rough sex. Lou hatches a plan that would get him the $10,000 meant to bribe his lover into hitting the road; unfortunately, it involves a double-murder, one of the victims being her. After making love and discussing their plans to reconvene a few weeks down the line, Lou pulls on a pair of black gloves, then begins to punch Alba in the face, at full force, repeatedly. The camera does not turn away, and as he takes a good dozen shots at her head, her features begin to distort at each impact with his closed fist. As she lies on the floor, unconscious, unrecognizable, and barely breathing, he asks if she can hear him. He tells her he loves her, and that's he's sorry. He then takes several more punches.

Why Alba agreed to take on the part -- or, for that matter, Kate Hudson, who plays Lou's fiancée and receives similar treatment later on in the film -- is a question best answered by Alba herself. Unfortunately the actress walked out at the film's mid-point.

But for whatever pleasures the film takes in lingering on violence perpetrated upon women (the male victims, on the other hand, are all either tidily shot or killed off-screen), the rest of the film coasts along, glossing over major plot points, taking radical shifts in tone (a boppy, lighthearted score accompanies one murder scene), and generally leaving me scratching my head. Everyone in town seems to know Lou was responsible for the most obvious staged-murder scene in history. And they seem to enjoy telling him that they know he did it -- particularly Elias Koteas as a union boss and Simon Baker as a suspicious detective -- and yet no one seem capable of procuring the very available evidence that pins him to the crimes. And why is there a shot of Lou scribbling advanced mathematical equations into a notebook, no mention to be made of it again?

And then there's Bill Pullman, saddled with the most baffling performance of all, who shows up in the final reel spouting nonsense at the top of his lungs before springing Lou from an insane asylum. In the car, he makes some cryptic analogy involving weeds and lawns, which elicits full confession. Then he drops him off at home and drives off.

Asked to elucidate some of the happenings in this muddled and befuddling third act, Winterbottom explained that he was just remaining faithful to the book. The only problem is that this isn't a book. It's a movie. And those tend to work better when they make sense.


  • NP says:

    This sounds just awful. Did she walk out after her own death scene? Had she seen the final cut of the film? I wonder..

  • Rigo says:

    Yeah, but Americans will watch it. What are we up to Saw 15? We have more sickos in this country the the population of other countries.

  • NP says:

    Also, this:
    "Winterbottom explained that he was just remaining faithful to the book."
    is such a cop out/non-explanation.

  • stolidog says:

    After all that punching, maybe her face was able to convey some sort of emotion.

  • Laci says:

    Seth, check out this follow up to your Rogue Film School article:

  • Elwade says:

    Why is Michael Winterbottom still being allowed to make films? I haven't seen a single one of his works that was engaging, or even that made much sense. Who is financing this idiot's projects--his parents?

  • Martini Shark says:

    Anyone else notice the irony of Jessica doing what so many of us have done over the past few years? I wonder if she trotted on "Good Luck Chuck" during its premiere as well, because she is showing better taste in films at least than she has in the scripts.

  • Velvet Revolution says:

    It kills me when a film critic proclaims that just because they didn't understand the movie it obviously must not make sense. I thought their job was to critique the film. Not to dictate what we as an audience can and can not understand simply because they don't. As far as the rest? Movies can't all be the "Twilight" series. The world isn't a happy, shiny place. No one's being forced to watch it or a portrayal of it. If that makes the rest of us sick to understand that, then strap me in my jacket and lock me away with the rest of the non-coddled generation.

  • Joe Truhillo says:

    The film didn't make sense, the storyline was unintelligible. Just because we don't want to be assaulted by a film doesn't mean we want to be coddled. We don't want society to think it's ok to pummel your girlfriend to death in the most twisted way possible--what is the POINT of making a film like that?? The only people that would enjoy this film are rapists and serial killers. This film was the sickest film I have ever seen in my entire life. Many people walked out and refused to stay, resisting the allure of getting to see a star-studded Q&A after the film, as I suspect was the only reason the remaining audience members hung around. Jessica Alba is literally punched in the face ATLEAST 50 times for what felt like 15 minutes until she is almost dead while "Lou" keeps saying "I love you" and she says "I love you" over and over and then he keeps asking her if she is gone yet, and then hits her again and again and again and again and again and keeps saying "Are you gone yet? I love you." There is no excuse for her to die that way when all the men in the movie are simply shot. It is the sickest thing I have ever seen in my life. The only thing this kind of a movie does is desensitize people to this kind of violence against women and make it real. It makes it real to some drunk guy who sees the film and thinks that's normal and that it's heroic somehow because it was in a movie, and then beats up his girlfriend or kills her. Violence against women sells on tv and so scenes where women are beat up or killed are up 180% on tv, which correlates to a matching steady rise in violence against women in real life. I hope Michael Winterbottom is really proud of himself and feels good taking responsibility for what his "art work" does to some girl somewhere. Is this the kind of film "rebellion" Sundance wants to promote and stand behind?? It makes me sick. I thought Jessica Alba was a spokesperson against domestic violence but I guess she needed a paycheck. Would Sundance have taken the film if it was a black man or a gay man who was beaten beyond all recognition over and over and over and over and over for 15 minutes? This is not what it means to be given the honor of having a voice and a film to influence the world with. I am proud of the woman who stood up and called them out. Shock violence just for the sake of it is easy and thoughtless and it's a crutch for talentless filmmakers who can't make the story captivating enough on their own with their intellect. Did you ever see Hitchcock use a scene with all kinds of blood and gore and shock violence? He was TOO SMART and TOO TALENTED to need to lower himself to that. And yet Hitchcock made some of the greatest suspense and murder films of all time.

  • Oh Brother says:

    I for one have seen lots of films with gratuitous violence. I grew up playing video games like Mortal Kombat( remember the public outcry by parents nationwide) and watched films like Saw. I have never commited a violent crime or any crime in my life. To say this movie is gonna inspire any act of violence toward women is absurd! These kinds of movies have been around for years! "Last House On The Left", "I Spit On Your Grave" in the 70's, "Henry:Portrait of A Serial Killer" in the 80's. Moviemakers have always used extreme violence. It's usually symbolic of the times and angst of the general public. This movie takes place in the 50's, unfortunately a time period where violence against women was alot more common than today because back then it was considered unthinkable. Not to mention it was a time where there was a lot of sexual reppression. If you really think that there weren't sicko's back than, well, than you are simply more naive than you sound. I highly doubt the director's point was to piss off as many people as he could. Just because YOU may not understand some of the symbolism behind the films admittedly over the top violence, doesn't mean Winterbottom is a talentless hack who should quit. If you dont like it, dont watch it. Stick to your Disney films and keep your close minded thoughts to yourself.

  • JD says:

    You forgot to add Alba goes "I love you" to Affleck after her faced starts to cave in.

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