Movie Review: “Killer Joe” – A Southern Fried Sinfest

Written by Matthew da Silva August 24, 2012

With films like “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist” (the original) under his belt, William Friedkin’s filmography has spanned a wide array of genres over his fifty-year career in the director’s seat. Garnering an infamous NC-17 rating in the States for its unapologetic content, “Killer Joe” is Friedkin at his most ambitious, effortlessly blending dark and depraved comedy with a tense and sinful narrative that rivals the terror of his horror classic.

Welcome To Dallas

After drug-dealer Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) gets his stash stolen by his birth mother, he has to come up with $6,000 quickly to pay back his drug lord or face the consequence of an untimely death. With his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) unable to front him for the money, he proposes a plan. His mother’s life insurance policy would pay out $50,000 to his younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple) in case of accidental death, a hefty sum of cash that would both pay off his debt and allow the Smith family a passage out of their trailer park slum. Making matters even easier, Chris knows of a crooked cop, going by the name of Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey), who moonlights as a hit man for hire.

If you thought that the plot in itself was immoral enough, prepare yourself for a shocker, as the next hour and a half is jam packed with nervous-laugh inducing debauchery, gore, and the most promiscuous Kentucky fried chicken wing in cinematic history. The actions of the dysfunctional Smith family make the Droogs of “A Clockwork Orange” look like modern day reincarnations of Ghandi with their lack of guilt and empathy for anyone other than themselves.

Matthew McConaugh-who?

I was skeptical originally going into the film due in large part to McConaughey, who I discredited for his typical roles in cheesy rom-com’s. The McConaughey I saw as Killer Joe, though, was far removed from the meathead hunk I wrongly accused him of being. With the ominous sound of a Zippo lighter flicking up and down to introduce Joe, his performance was chilling throughout. At one turn he would be making polite dinner conversation, which would fluidly transition into him severely threatening a member of the Smith family, all the while carrying the same calm demeanor that translated into a perfect, everyman psychopath.

The Smith family did well to compliment Joe’s composed actions with their largely disorganized and dimwitted decisions. The father, son, stepmother trio of Church, Hirsch, and Gina Gershon respectively were reminiscent of a redneck “Three Stooges”; Hirsch’s Chris acting as Moe, bopping his Curly-esque father over the head at every opportunity and ignoring the putdowns of his know-it-all stepmother. Completing the family is Juno Temple as Dottie, whose quiet naiveté makes her both the most feeble yet smartest of the bunch with her inquisitive attitude. Their flaws allow Joe to swoop in like a vulture, jabbing at their collective vulnerability with his concisely orchestrated manipulation.

A Knack For Tension

Even with all of its greased up manipulation and action, the film still has some scenes that move with the speed of the slow-paced Texas drawl. These scenes are never boring, though, and keep you clinging to your seats as tension gradually builds, making the end result as vilely gratifying as possible. Ditch the popcorn for some fried chicken when going to see the film, as you may be looking at it in disgust for awhile after, and be sure to leave your morality at the door.

My Rating: 8/10

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