As every magazine and Sunday supplement will tell you serial killers are The Big Thing right now, and Henry, portrayed by Michael Rooker with brilliant restraint, truth and power, could well prove the last instalment for some time to come. This is sicko territory with a vengeance, and all the more so for the absolute and cold detachment of its tone.
Henry is an ordinary blue-collar Joe, strong, silent and not unattractive. He is also an ex-con who drifts from city to city, not because he's a psychopathic killer with enough animal cunning to cover his tracks. Henry is lodging with his old prison buddy Otis (Towles) when Otis' sister Becky (Arnold) turns up to stay and forges a close relationship with the killer, which, in an ending of chillingly banal horror, proves her undoing. Meanwhile, the repulsive Otis becomes privy to Henry's dark secret and a willing partner in murder. This plot development destroys credibility because it is at total odds with the essence of the serial killer's solitary nature. It also allows the film to move into areas of sexual sickness that are almost intolerable to watch (the audience walk-out rate is exceptionally high).
John McNaughton, inspired by the true case of Henry Lee Lucas, who claimed to have murdered over 300 women, offers a masterly evocation of smalltown low-life and psychopathic sadism. A spare and authentic screenplay unfolds in an almost documentary-like enviroment, there are no histrionics and the acting is of the highest order, but the film shocks and disturbs as much for its morally questionable purpose as in its ugly subject. This is no cops 'n' robbers movie: there is no retribution or confrontation, no illumination and little explanation. Henry and Otis just are, and the dispassionate depiction of their activities includes a slow and graphic rape and murder of a woman in front of her husband and a video camera, with Henry watching Otis on screen while we see both.
The very brilliance with which this movie is made emphasises the question, what is it for? The stars are strictly for technical excellence.