Film Review – Killer Joe

Killer Joe

Directed by: William Friedkin

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Thomas Haden Church, Emile Hirsche, Gina Gershon,

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright


Want to spend around two hours with some sleazy, sweaty, loathsome, morally corrupt trailer trash? Wait, that’s not really the way to get someone’s attention to go and see Killer Joe. That list of adjectives would tend to drive people away instead of drawing them in. While William Friedkin’s black comedy, based on the play of the same name, is about such a group of such people, there is more to it than that.

Granted, you will need a dark and twisted sense of humour (like me – whoops have I given too much away here?) to enjoy the black as coal laughs here as people are threatened, beaten, abused, betrayed, manipulated and violently killed. This probably won’t sound like much of a good time to some people, heck most people, but this down and dirty Texan spin on the film noir genre is a blood spattered hoot.

Desperate times call for desperate measures for one trailer park family. When Chris (Emile Hirsch), who is up to his neck in debt, gets wind of the dollar worth of his estranged mother’s life insurance, he seeks to have her bumped off. We are not talking a million dollars here, or even half of that. This brat wants to off her for a measly $50,000 – half of which will go as payment to the guy that kills her – Joe (Matthew McConaughey, in an eye-opening, slow burn performance).

Chris even recruits his lazy, half-wit father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church in fine form) and his child-like and virginal sister Dottie (Juno Temple) to set the plan into motion. Their trashy step-mother Sharla’s (Gina Gershon – who deserves a bravery award) involvement becomes more complicated as it goes along. Said plan doesn’t run as smoothly as these uneducated twits hoped, which tests Joe’s patience, although his fury is always simmering beneath the surface. However, he does take an unsettling liking to Dottie.

Actually, this doesn’t sound very funny so you will just have to see it to get it. And while the humour and violence has been alluded to in this review, what hasn’t yet is the white knuckle tension that exists the entire running time of this 102 minute film. Right from the beginning, Friedkin puts us on edge and has us relentlessly teeter there. While his abilities as a film maker to do this are already unquestionable – hello The Exorcist and Bug – he surprises us by skillfully weaving the dark humour in amongst it. Even at 77 years old, Friedkin is still unafraid to tackle the controversial. There are some splendidly confronting moments in this film that have caused quite a stir that aren’t as graphically outrageous as crucifix masturbation but will still trouble you. Anyone who can handle that is in for a treat.

Killer Joe screened as part of the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival.

4 Responses to “Film Review – Killer Joe”

  1. Really looking forward to seeing this one. It’s amazing that Friedkin is still working and churning out movies like this.

  2. I’m bummed that this didn’t get a proper release here. I missed it at MIFF and thought it may come through. Guess I’ll have to be content with DVD. Very keen to see it, if only to finally understand all these KFC jokes.

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