Movies don’t get anymore “indie” than Jesse Vint’s “The Killer Within Me”, one of those films that oozes the phrase “guerilla filmmaking” with every celluloid pore. It’s a low, low, low, low budget movie, the kind where a modest house with a pool stands in for the supposedly lush Beverly Hills estate of a world-renown author. The kind of low budget where a small Midwestern town stands in for the streets of Beverly Hills, California. The kind of — Well, you get the idea. “Killer” is that kind of movie.
The film stars William Benton as Steve, an unrepentant sociopath with an easy smile and the ability to spin 50 lies in a matter of seconds. After being paroled from prison, Steve is sent across the country by his worried parents to live with their best friend, famous anti-death penalty advocate and Norman Mailer wannabe Danny Flanagan (Corby Timbrook). Flanagan lives with his daughter Stacy (Stacie Doss), who warns her dad that Steve is trouble. Alas, Flanagan is determined to follow through on his “no one is born evil” thesis by taking the murderer in. Soon, Steve’s devilish ways are bringing trouble to Flanagan’s doorsteps…
My suggestion with “Killer” is to approach it as a comedy, because it’s certainly not a very good moralistic tale about the evils of, well, evil people. The screenplay by Vint is much too shorthanded, going for easy marks like Flanagan’s Bleeding Heart Liberal Do-Gooder character traits. Although it’s interesting to note that the script really doesn’t give examples of Flanagan’s supposed Bleeding Heart Liberalness. Other than the fact that Flanagan writes books about capital punishment and how prison isn’t working, there’s very little to suggest that he’s deserving of the troubles that befall him courtesy of Steve, as the movie seems to insinuate.
As a comedy, the movie is really, really funny. It’s all unintentional, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less funny. The film is just so low budget that it’s a riot to see all the stand-ins for what are supposed to be Beverly Hills locations. I don’t even understand why they picked Beverly Hills in the first place. Couldn’t Bleeding Heart Liberals also live in, say, Arkansas or Oklahoma? Even the Flanagan character is supposed to have come from a small town in Arkansas. And since he’s a writer, doesn’t it make sense that he could live just about anywhere and still maintain his supposed Liberalness?
In any case, it’s amusing to see just how quickly Flanagan turns on the entire notion of changing Steve. Of course it’s probably owed to the movie’s short 75-minute running time that character motivations turn on a dime — or, to be more precise, turn on the whim of the movie plot points. If you thought Flanagan’s reactions to Steve was swift, daughter Stacy is even more prone to an inexplicable change of heart. For that matter, since when did Arkansas law allow paroled felons to move to another state?
The only real reason to watch “The Killer Within Me” is William Benton, who is really good in the role of charming Steve. Benton looks a bit like Mark Wahlberg, but with acting talent. Wahlberg is a terrible actor and Benton would run rings around the “movie star”. Without resorting to throwaway superlatives, I’ll just say that Benton is excellent in the role. A natural and gifted actor, I would be surprised if Benton didn’t become a known actor in mainstream roles sometime in the near future. He’s that good.
As for “The Killer Within Me”, I suggest taking it in stride and assuming it’s a comedy instead of the thriller or cautionary tale that it wants to be. It’s an average film, shot on digital video on a very limited budget. The movie’s one major location is Flanagan’s home, and one suspects that’s only because they were able to procure permission to use it. Other locations, such as the exterior of a prison or a police station, are staged with guerilla filmmaking efficiency.
Actually, it’s laudable that the film even exists at all, since they couldn’t have been working with very much on hand. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure, if just for all the unintentional comedy. Also, lead William Benton is insanely good.
Jesse Vint (director) / Jesse Vint (screenplay)
CAST: Corby Timbrook …. Danny Flanagan
William Benton …. Steve Padevik
Lydie Denier …. Cassandra Flanagan
Stacie Doss …. Stacy Flanagan