Film Review: Killer Joe

Killer Joe

William Friedkin has had an odd career thus far. He directed acclaimed classics such as The Exorcist and The French Connection, picking up an Academy Award for latter, which would have led many to assume he would continue knocking out major pictures such as these. However, have a quick glance over his filmography since then and it’s littered with rather underwhelming films that you’d do well to even recall the name of. Killer Joe is Friedkin’s first release since 2006’s Bug and is probably his most commercial film in over a decade.

Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a down-‘n’-out drug dealer who owes a lot of money. With time running out to repay he concocts a scheme to have his mother killed and collect on the life insurance. Enter Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a corrupt police officer who moonlights as a killer for hire, whom Chris enlists to help off his dear ol’ ma. However, when Joe takes a liking to Chris’s younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple), the whole situation becomes an even more twisted nightmare.

The tone for Killer Joe set is from the off as Chris’s step-mother Sharla (Gina Gershon) opens the door to their trailer with absolutely nothing on her bottom half, her excuse being “I didn’t know it was going to be you”. From that point on, the film doesn’t pull any punches and is drenched in the kind of depravity and filth that would normally have many turning off. Instead, there’s something fascinating about this family and their warped world that challenges you to keep watching more than it invites you to turn away.

Killer Joe

It really isn’t an easy watch by any means and there are instances that make your skin crawl. Joe’s lust for the clearly mentally inept and indeterminably aged Dottie is hugely creepy, whilst the infamous fried chicken scene is nothing short of fucked up. It really does need to be seen to be believed. In fact, this is the only scene where Killer Joe actually feels maybe a little too gratuitous for the sake of gratuity, although its dark (dark as in black as the night) humour just about saves it from crossing that line. And it’s this humour that is the film’s most important element. Without it, it would be too dark, too twisted to really work, but instead it wears its sadism with a wry smile that lightens the mood just enough.

Killer Joe is a somewhat claustrophobic film and, as such, it’s important that performances are strong, and they generally are. Emile Hirsch is decent without ever being spectacular, whilst both Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon are entertaining as Chris deadbeat father and step mother respectively. Juno Temple is brilliantly naive and disturbing as Dottie, but it’s Matthew McConaughey who absolutely steals the show and continues his successful ‘McConnaissance’ (a phrase stolen from whichever genius thought it up). McConaughey is downright creepy and sadistic as Joe, but he plays it so well that you can’t help but somehow be drawn to him, very much as everyone else in the film is.

Killer Joe isn’t a film to settle down with for some light-hearted viewing. It’s depraved and backward, right down to its no doubt divisive conclusion, but it’s this very depravity that is much of its attraction. It never allows you to feel truly comfortable, largely thanks to Friedkin’s direction and McConaughey’s performance, but it’s a mesmerising snapshot of a family dynamic you pray to God doesn’t exist in real life.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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49 thoughts on “Film Review: Killer Joe

  1. ckckred says:

    Nice review. I haven’t seen this yet but I’m looking forward to doing so.

  2. Hunter says:

    I keep hearing about how messed up this film is, but I also still feel like I want to see it anyway. It’s the weirdest thing. Great review.

  3. Ryan says:

    Ashamed to say that I still haven’t seen this yet. I’ve heard nothing but great things though and I love Friedkin’s work. Great review, will be seeing this soon.

  4. sati says:

    Awesome review and I’m glad you liked it, it was my number 2 of last year and I gave it 10/10. Great point about humor – one of my favorite novels is American Psycho but without large dose of humor it would be absolutely unreadable.

    • Thanks Sati πŸ™‚ I would definitely put this in my top 5 from last year, no doubt about it, not quite sure where exactly though. Yeah American Psycho is a great example of that ridiculously dark humour. I haven’t read the book but the film is the same, it really needs it for it to work.

  5. CMrok93 says:

    Nice review man. If these kind of dark, sinister comedy-dramas are what you like, this will be right up your alley.

  6. theipc says:

    Nice work here!! I LOVED this thing – well done!

  7. r361n4 says:

    Lol, I went and looked at Friedkin’s IMDb page after reading this and you’re totally right, the man’s career has taken him all over the place. This is definitely one for the highlight real, great review πŸ™‚

  8. filmhipster says:

    Finger licking good!!

  9. Julie says:

    In regards to the film’s claustrophobia: it’s a side effect of its being adapted from a stage play (as was Bug) by Tracy Letts. I imagine Killer Joe works better on stage — where its over-the-top quality wouldn’t seem quite so in-your-face — though I’ve never seen it done (I only wish I had).

  10. Garrett says:

    Very good review. Sounds like one that I need to see. McConaughey has been in some kinda controversial movies lately…

  11. keith7198 says:

    Solid review as always. Probably not going to be seeing this one but I’ve heard many good things about it.

  12. ruth says:

    Sorry Chris, but like Paper Boy, I think you know this isn’t for me. I did hear about Matthew’s career-altering performance in this, I even listened to his interview on NPR about this role. But even as he’s describing the scenes I knew I don’t want to see it, ahah. I think Friedkin’s definitely has a knack for shocking people, The Exorcist is one of those films I wish I could un-see so I’m not gonna make the same mistake with this one πŸ˜€

    • Haha, yeah I’m really not sure this is your cup of tea Ruth! πŸ™‚ Matthew’s performance really is outstanding here, I can’t praise him enough, especially as he’s had a lot of criticism in the past. And at least you can say you’ve seen The Exorcist, even if you never want to see it again!

  13. Mark Walker says:

    Fantastic review Chris. Couldn’t agree more. I absolutely loved this and gave it the same rating. How good was McConaughey here? Just superb!

  14. “It really isn’t an easy watch by any means and there are instances that make your skin crawl.”

    LOL. You can say that again! πŸ˜€

    Still, an engrossing movie, for sure. I know I liked it. I agree with your high praise for it, Chris. πŸ˜‰

  15. Good review. I’ve got to say that my opinion of this film has deteriorated since I first saw it. I still like it a lot – but I think it was just a bit too blunt to be a great movie. Have you seen Bug? – I rate that as his best film alongside The French Connection.

    But yeah, Friedken’s had a strange career.

    • Thanks. That’s interesting you think it doesn’t hold up that well. I can certainly imagine it loses a lot of its shock value second time round. I haven’t seen Bug but I’ve heard some really good things about it, I’ll have to give that a watch. In fact, I haven’t seen The French Connection either! That’s one of those classics that has somehow eluded me.

  16. Great review! Glad you liked this movie. One of the highlights of 2012 for me. I loved it!

  17. The Phage says:

    SUCH a great film. Definitely one of my highlights of 2012 thanks to McConaughey – really amazed me with that performance. Great review dude.

  18. I find it amusing that you say this is “probably [Friedkin’s] most commercial film in over a decade”, and it was rated NC-17 and everyone’s saying it’s really messed up. That… really says a lot about the direction he’s taken his career in, doesn’t it? πŸ˜€

  19. claratsi says:

    seen this some time ago and reviewed if you are interested. a brilliant film, grimy and hilarious, top, top review Terrence!

  20. claratsi says:

    I watched Bug recently too, which was similar in someways , well at least in terms of the ‘subclass’ of people. Joe is the better film still.

  21. cinenemablog says:

    Awesome review and awesome movie. It actually made my list of best movies of 2012. Great stuff! And Gina Gershon is hot as always.

  22. ZoΓ« says:

    Nice review. This looks interesting!

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