Killer Joe (2011)

Wow. Once again Ignorance has served me well. Hmmm….that’s a disconcerting sentence when said out loud. But in the case of Killer Joe…it’s completely accurate. I knew virtually nothing about this flick when it got its initial limited release. This film marks the return of classic film maestro William Friedkin, the man at the helm of such celluloid milestones like The French Connection (1971) and, of course, The Exorcist (1973). Recently, Friedkin has been popping up with smaller and stranger cinematic offerings. The last feature he birthed was the well-crafted and bat-shit crazy Ashley Judd/Michael Shannon ‘character study’ Bug (2006). A very interesting and downright fucked-up film. In many respects, Killer Joe shares a similar tone and ‘downward spiral’ toward the ‘absurd’ and ‘unpleasant’. This flick details the pathetic and nasty lives of a family of pure red-neck, hilly-billy low life pieces of Texan shit. The story kicks off when the son Chris, played with a nice sense of pathetic hickness by the strangely inconsistent Emile Hirsch, needs to recruit some outside help to solve a small personal issue. Seems this little dipshit got himself in with the wrong people and now owes a hefty bunch of cash…which naturally results in threats of violence and death. So, genius that this drug-dealing little buffoon is, he opts to enlist the aid of his dimwitted, push-over of a father, played with a VERY tangible ‘moron’ streak by Thomas Haden Church, to arrange for the ‘accidental’ death of their mutual bitch mother/bitch ex wife, in order to snatch up a $50 000 insurance policy. To make this ill-conceived homicidal dream come true, they acquire the services of a cowboy hat-wearing ‘gentleman’ of a police detective named Joe Cooper, played with eloquent ‘range’ and ‘relish’ by Matthew McConaughey…who just happens to ‘moonlight’ as a well-practiced hit-man. The entire narrative takes a ‘Fargo’-like slant when the promised cash isn’t forthcoming and Joe opts to take the cute simpleton of a daughter/sister as a “retainer”, basically moving into the shitty house and the shitty lives of these hick fuck-ups. And then it gets crazy. In some respects, this flick reminded me of an Aussie offering I reviewed a while back, Sleeping Beauty (2011), another film that features some seriously brave performances and a generous helping of unsettling full-frontal nudity; riding on a somewhat poisonous undercurrent. Like that film, the nudity and sexuality, on grimy display here, carry an unpleasant aura about them…especially where the character of Dottie is concerned. Dottie is the daughter/sister pimped to Joe by her family and she’s played by a young actress named Juno Temple…who I am thrilled to report is 23 years of age! Why am I thrilled, you ask? Cuz they make her character out to be the epitome of goddamn jailbait! Besides looking WAY too young…especially for the undertone of sexual awakening/deflowering (and full frontal nudity), she plays the character with a borderline handicapped simplicity, due to the attempted pillow abortion from her loving mom as an infant. Which may or may not have left her with a mild form of ‘shining’. Oh yeah, and her character is further challenged by a creepy incestuous vibe from her bro, Chris. But the true stand-out in this flick is McConaughey. He inhabits the Joe Cooper character like a second skin. Which may or may not be a compliment considering the depths that he sinks to prove his points and maintain absolute control over the screwed-up family of bumpkins, and their nubile daughter. There’s a particular scene in the 3rd Act where he has a ‘heart to heart’ with Gina Gershons trampy wife character Sharla. This pleasant little chat consists of her ‘blowing’ a piece of gross-looking fried chicken held by Joe, around a bloody and broken nose. As Joe clearly ‘gets off’ on this, Haden Churchs Ansel watches in slack-jawed fear. The entire scene was reminiscent of the now infamous ‘Motel Scene’ from Rob Zombies The Devils Rejects (2005), in which we are unflinchingly subjected to the torture and brutal murders of a group of ‘innocents’ by the depraved protagonists. While the violence is harsh, what really ‘twists the knife’ is the cameras inability to look away. This scene is just like that. While the acting from everybody onscreen is amazing, the end illusion is cringe-worthy. And I mean THAT as a compliment…I think. The final shot is a good one, of the ‘what do YOU think happened?’ variety, if those work for you. Killer Joe is a really gnarly, well-constructed flick that I’m glad that I took the time to watch but may never need to revisit. Some movies are just like THAT and I recommend it effortlessly on THAT level.

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