Film Review: Killer Joe

Just when you think nothing in cinema can shock you anymore, William Friedkin shows up and does something so horrifying that it beggars belief. His latest film Killer Joe contains such a scene. Let’s just say it involves Matthew McConaughey, Gina Gershon, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken leg. If you’re a big lover of KFC, you should be prepared to be put off for a long time.

Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is a drug-addicted, alcoholic redneck who soon finds himself in trouble with some local goons. He owes them a lot of money, something he and his lowlife family, including his father (Thomas Haden Church) and his step mother (Gina Gershon) certainly don’t have. The only solution anyone can think of is to bump off Chris’s mother in order to get insurance money. They decide to hire the infamous Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a police officer who’s a hired gun on the side. The only problem is, Chris and the rest of his clan can’t afford the upfront fee that he requires, so Joe decides to take something else as collateral – Chris’s younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple).

This is the second film in a row by William Friedkin that is based on a stage play, and in this case it is rather noticeable. Quite a few moments feel rather stagey, with plenty of dialogue and actors breaking into monologues. Friedkin deserves credit then for not allowing these scenes to take anything away from the cinematic effect of the film, instead using the monologues to show just how good the cast he’s brought together really is. You would call it sophisticated it the film’s content wasn’t so barbaric.

Friedkin is as unflinching as ever when it comes to what he shows us on screen, but on this occasion his great sense of purpose will make many despise watching this. It’s filled with extremely dark humour that makes you feel terrible for even thinking of raising a smile; this includes the aforementioned scene with a chicken leg. It is a truly chilling and disturbing scene, mainly because the humiliation that Friedkin is showing us is intended to make us laugh. That is a catastrophic misjudgement on Friedkin’s part.

In the UK it has received an 18 certificate, while in the US it has received the infamous NC-17 rating, something some filmmakers aim for. If Friedkin has released this as an NC-17 back in the 90s it probably would have become a cult hit during the “video nasty” era. It earns this rating and then some with its scenes of violence, sex, violent sex, and violent sex related simulation. It all borders very closely on misogyny and many will not forgive the film for this.

The title role though is occupied by someone who gives the stellar performance it deserves. Matthew McConaughey gives a terrific performance, creating a sense of dread whenever he is on screen with his vile demeanour, which often leads to the film’s funnier moments. Killer Joe is rather compelling, but it’s unflinching and brutal nature will leave you squirming all the way home to take a shower.

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About Eric Wood

Eric Wood is 21 years old, from Bury in Greater Manchester, and a graduate of Salford University where he studied Journalism and English Literature. His first novel comes out later in the year, and he begins work directing his first feature length movie in the summer. Eric absolutely adores all forms of writing and loves movies so he’s the ideal film critic. His greatest inspiration for many years has been Michael Crichton, as Crichton has written novels, non-fiction, screenplays, and directed movies. Eric would love to be able to achieve all of those things in my lifetime.
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