I can’t think of any American state with a more troubling representation in cinema than Texas – psychos; chainsaw massacres; white-robed racists; flaming crucifixes; the Glanton Gang and Honey Boo Boo – yet there was still enough space for the predatory, rapacious and enthralling likes of Killer Joe. The film has sharply divided audiences since its release several months ago and as the film prepares to unleash itself in South Africa this Friday, it will be interesting to see our own unique, Die Antwoord-exposed, reaction.
A young man, Chris, in debt to an impatient drug dealer, contrives to have his mother killed for her life-insurance money. He hires Joe, a Texan cop, who moonlights as a hitman, to take care of it but things go awry when Joe claims Chris’ sister as a ‘retainer’ and the list of people benefitting from the hit grows.
A viewing of this film will no doubt lead some film goers into a discussion about who exactly it’s targeted at. Fans of applied depravity and films by Tarantino will definitely be entertained by this sleazy and bloodthirsty neo-noir. This really is a film with an acquired taste, but few out there will actually want to acquire it. Sensitive viewers – beware!
The Bottom Line
You can slap this film with hundreds of ferociously descriptive adjectives – it deserves it and probably enjoys them too! – but make no mistake, this is expertly crafted cinema. Nothing less was expected from William Friedkin, who also directed The Exorcist and the equally brilliant and gritty police thriller, The French Connection. His lack of artistic caution but sense of control and natural story-telling balances this greasy construct of a narrative with pitch-perfect thrills; laughs and repugnance. Adapted from a stage play, Friedkin turns a talky narrative into a highly cinematic piece doused in thick noir atmosphere and engaging sequences. Like a perverted magician, he manipulates the audience and their expectations by drawing them in with noteworthy visuals and darkly comical dialogue, only to pummel them back into their seats with scenes of extreme depravity. I don’t remember feeling this ravaged since my first ever viewings of The Exorcist and Lars von Trier’s Antichrist.
At this point it’s anyone’s guess as to why you would want to witness such sadistic cinema. From my perspective, this is a boundary-pushing film with fine-line craftsmanship and I appreciated its balls-to-the-wall approach. The film knows what it is and keeps that stability. It creates for itself a stylistic bubble and keeps at its pace throughout. There was never a sense of being ahead of the plot or knowing what will happen, it was deviously leading me around its shocks and laughs like a twisted carnival. But putting all other stylistic and personal tastes aside, an objective enduring aspect of the film is, without a doubt, the cast.
It’s been touted as Matthew McConaughey’s performance of a lifetime and it definitely is. You won’t find him in a role further from his usual rom-com or hunk for hunk’s sake typecasting. He takes advantage of his charismatic, provocative charm; twists and warps it like a Texas back road and creates something altogether seductive and terrifying. Joe has such a heavy and volatile presence throughout the film that you can’t help but feel engaged. The Smith family are equally expertly cast. Despite probably making Darwin himself recoil in horror, their zeff-like dysfunction and stupidity actually adds to the tension of the film and it is exactly Joe’s underestimation of their stupidity that sends the characters off at high-speed toward insurmountable disaster.
Killer Joe is cruel; rough and misogynistic. It’s a film you need to be prepared for and more than likely, no matter how hardy you may be, will offend or shock you one way or another. William Friedkin is a difficult man and his films are equally difficult to appreciate but, if anything else, this film is an endurance test. It becomes quite personal and it is down to the individual viewer as to how much they can stand and how much they allow themselves to enjoy. This is certainly a unique cinematic experience.
About Martin Rutkowski
Martin Rutkowski is a recent graduate from AFDA Film School with an Honours degree in Directing and Screen-writing. He has two ears and one mouth and listens twice as much as he speaks. For him, home is wherever there is a darkened room, a projector and a good film playing and finds nothing more spiritual than cinema. Martin would love nothing more than to spread his passion for films (and maybe give an opinion or two) whilst pursuing several screen-writing projects.