Jake Gyllenhaal stars in “Nightcrawler,” now playing in area theaters.

It’s rare that a film leaves me feeling completely ill at ease. Painfully uncomfortable, even.

Horror movies can frighten me. They can leave me fearing the boogeyman or a slasher lurking in my bushes, waiting for the right moment to burst in my home. I’ve even been known to sleep with the lights on, so I can see whatever ghost or ghoul is headed for me.

But the film I saw this week wasn’t a horror film. It wasn’t meant to be scary, in that sense, but the monster in it was very real.

“Nightcrawler” exposes journalism at its worst. There’s an old adage: “If it bleeds, it leads.” This film takes that maxim and kicks it up to the highest level.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Louis Bloom, a man with no morals or boundaries. He has no job, no real values and not a lot of money. His car is an old clunker, and any income comes from selling stolen goods.

His apartment is small with a twin bed and a TV fueled by stolen cable. One night his life is changed forever as he comes across Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), a videographer — or nightcrawler — who scours the police scanner finding accidents, fires and violent crimes to record and sell to the highest bidder.

Louis sells a stolen bicycle in order to purchase a camcorder and begin his own nightcrawling career.

Through the help of a less-than-moral broadcast news director, Nina (Rene Russo), and an assistant videographer, Rick (Riz Ahmed), Louis begins to create a video news empire.

He begins to look for the most depraved, violent stories. His footage becomes bloodier and more gruesome. The darker the story, the more fulfilled he becomes.

Louis Bloom is one of the most chilling characters I’ve seen in a long time. He’s both enigmatic and off-putting, all at once. While watching, I couldn’t help but think Gyllenhaal has created a Ted Bundy-like character. Louis is charismatic and confident, but there’s an underlying current of something sinister. You’re just not sure what lies beneath.

Louis is willing to do anything to get the story. He manipulates people and crime scenes. He goes to extreme measures to eliminate the competition.

His relationship with Nina — a strong woman willing to do anything to succeed, as well — is twisted in one of the foulest ways possible. You see, he doesn’t just want a lucrative deal with her news station. He wants her, too.

Watching Louis’ story unfold is a bit like watching a car accident. It’s morbid and twisted, but your eyes can’t pull away. I sat in the theater chilled to the bone — and not from the air conditioning.

Louis Bloom is a character who goes beyond dark and sinister. Each word he utters, each action he takes all add to the complexity of the character. He’s not a good man, but you get the sense he doesn’t know that. Louis believes in what he’s saying.

He’s taught himself business principles and other teachings through time spent on stolen Internet service. He wants to better himself, and he thinks the world should be working to help him however it can.

“Nightcrawler” has gotten fantastic reviews, and there’s even been buzz that Gyllenhaal might earn some Oscar attention. He’s backed up by a talented supporting cast and a masterfully crafted story, but it’s hard to focus on anything, except the sociopathic Louis Bloom.

The film crept under my skin and still has me twitchy. It wasn’t the shady take on journalism that, in all honesty, isn’t completely off the mark. Death and destruction flood our airways and print media. It’s just a fact of life.

The real horror is watching Gyllenhaal, who has created a character capable of anything and everything. He’s calm, but it’s easy to see he could snap at any time. And sometimes he does.

“Nightcrawler” kept me on the edge of my seat and senses. It bleeds. It leads. And, you’ll surely follow.

Amanda Greever is the assistant managing editor of The Daily Times. Contact her at amanda.greever@thedailytimes.com, follow her on Twitter @agreever_editor and “Like” Weekend on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dailytimesweekend.

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