To be honest, words escape me when trying to describe William Friedkin’s most recent collaboration with playwright/screenwriter Tracy Letts. On one hand, Killer Joe is so wonderfully depraved and subversive in every sense of the words that to dislike it makes one seem ignorant, however it’s also easy to see why these qualities would turn off any particular number of casual viewers. From start to finish, the film’s relentlessly sleazy and darkly humorous mantra is rarely ineffective, and with a central story arc as ludicrous as they come, to shun Killer Joe is to fail in realizing its obvious intentions.
Embracing its hard NC-17 rating nearly everywhere you’d expect it to, Killer Joe is a direct reference to the title character “Killer” Joe Cooper, a local Dallas detective that moonlights as a contract killer. Hired by young local scumbag Chris (Emile Hirsch) to off his good-for-nothing mother for her hefty life insurance policy, Joe agrees to claim Chris’ underage sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as a (sexual) retainer until he receives his monetary fee that wasn’t paid upfront. Periodic aberrant violence and questionable human behavior permeate the proceedings, what with an awkward, rather disturbing sexual encounter benchmarking them effortlessly barring one hell of a latter act.
Celebrating said violence rather than using it for authenticity’s sake, these instances are purposefully presented as something out of an XXX-rated comic book, alternating between plain fucked up and quite humorous with bone-chilling finesse. McConaughey and Temple’s performances alone are, frankly, almost worth the price of admission alone, and each instance of role committal here is nothing short of commendable. In fact, the only thing that Killer Joe suffers from is a sense of predictability brought about by idle chatter pertaining to the film’s rating; ensuring us that what we see won’t hit quite as hard as it should, even despite what the film has in store for audiences as it creeps closer to its unsettling end.
There isn’t much else left to say that can accurately classify Killer Joe as something that’s whole-heartedly way out in left field; it’s a given that it effortlessly embraces this mold thanks to both its source material’s relentless mean streak and how that translates seamlessly to the big screen. Sex, violence and a tasteless embracing of Southern stereotypes supports the film’s outrageous intentions, of which are simply to entertain despite how off-putting a bulk of it truly and very obviously is. It goes without saying that Friedkin’s already found his audience for this one, but coupled with fantastic performances, Killer Joe is a trashy treat.