Killer Joe (Frank’s take).

The exploration of twisted family dysfunction in the movies has always been a reliable staple of instant tension, insanity, perversion and caustic psychological scope. In the sensationalized and sleazy-minded Killer Joe, we are introduced to a different kind of Mama’s boy that would make Psycho’s Norman Bates look like a choir boy in comparison.

Killer Joe movie
Is this Joe and is he a killer?

Wildly odd, offbeat, harrowing and disturbingly comical, Killer Joe is an unlikely satirical examination on the deterioration of an unconventional family unit of low life individuals armed with corruptible morality. Although it is fair to assess the unabashed Killer Joe as an over-the-top exploitative circus show the off-kilter appeal is undeniable in its edgy colorful and concocted creepiness. The hedonistic hick behavior demonstrated in this southern gothic grim fable occasionally feels long in the tooth as some of the selective scenes feel garrulous. Still, the seedy surrealism behind Killer Joe simmers convincingly in its unsavory spirit.

Veteran filmmaker William Friedkin (“The French Connection”, “The Exocist”) brings to life the sordid details surrounding the detached and deranged sentiments of a misguided Texan clan clearly of limited intelligence and grace. Friedkin’s destructive black comedy is craftily supported by Tracy Letts’ stark and off-the-cuff writing. Letts, whose Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning dark and damaging August: Osage County was brimming with familial fury, has a natural easiness in conjuring up the diabolical outlandishness that fuels the disillusionment in Killer Joe.

The Smith crew notoriously distorts the “fun” in dysfunction. Low-level drug dealer Chris (Emile Hirsch) is not exactly what you would call a swift cookie. Owing his shady associates an excess of $6,000.00 he is definitely in need of some immediate funds. The obvious dilemma is clear: either Chris finds a way to repay that money or his existence on the planet will be drastically cut short. The question remains: how will the riff raffish Chris come up with the dough in an attempt to save his worthless life?

The solution finally comes to the despicable Chris—he decides to kill his mother for the payoff. The encouragement to do so is backed up by his trashy family that includes destitute father Ansel (Thomas Hayden Church) and his dimwit but delicious-looking sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Ansel is remarried to a new wife named Sharla (Gina Gershon) that he struggles to support financially. Evidently Ansel has no lingering love for his ex-wife so it is no skin off his back to prompt his son to eradicate his former spouse.

Both conspirators had rationalized that Chris’s mother possesses a rather generous life insurance policy—a convenient yet calculating scheme to consider in paying off the pending debt. Now who can be trusted to carry off the killing in order for Chris to get his shabby hands on the money he believes he can obtain as a beneficiary?

Ansel happens to know the perfect man for the dubious job. Dallas cop Killer Joe Cooper (Mattew McConaughey, “Magic Mike”) is the low key lunatic that is willing to carry out this menacing mission for a special fee. Quiet and methodical, Killer Joe is a hit man with unspeakable purpose.

It is one thing to hire an ominous law enforcing hit man to off your mother for a price. However, how can one hire a hit man to kill your target for a healthy stash of cash if you do not have any money in the first place to pay your frightening problem solver? Again Chris Smith is not the swift cookie imaginable. But then simply take a good look at his dumb DNA gene pool and you will discover the answer.

So a new kind of twist unfolds in that Chris’s backfiring move in getting involved with Killer Joe could prove fatal. In the long run, Chris may have been better off negotiating with the corrosive crowd that wanted his head on a shingle as opposed to messing around with the silent and sadistic Killer Joe Cooper.

The blood-splattering Killer Joe is indeed intoxicating in its tabloid-inspired tawdriness. Friedkin delivers a tacky yet hostile universe of broken souls that would make a Jerry Springer audience queasy. There are uneven parts to Killer Joe that feel dragged out and awkward. Nevertheless, the hot button irreverence certainly hits its mark more than it misses. The dialogue is indescribably witty and nonsensical given the depth of the insufferable protagonists that utter the warped, illogical words.

As Killer Joe Cooper, McConaughey eerily puts to good use his pretty boy persona as a dapper dangerous dude whose charisma and conflict is unpredictable and unassuming for a modern-day monster. Hirsch’s turn as the undesirable Chris is equally cockeyed and compelling. Temple, whose Lolita-esque Dottie’s sexual attraction to McConaughey’s charming and chilling Joe is eye-opening, provides a complex cutie for the ages. The fact that the cretin Chris prostitutes his own sister to appease Killer Joe speaks volumes of the human waste in this carousing exposition.

Vicious, captivating and wickedly amusing, Killer Joe is a raging and suggestive film noir that weirdly captures the atrocities of brutish family-oriented anguish.

Killer Joe (Independent Pictures)
1 hr. 43 mins.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Thomas Haden Church, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon
Directed by: William Friedkin
MPAA Rating: NC-17
Genre: Drama/Crime/Suspense and Mystery

Critic’s rating: ** ½ stars (out of 4 stars).


Frank Ochieng has contributed film reviews to SF Crowsnest off and on since 2003. He has been published in other various movie site venues throughout the years. Ochieng has been part of The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and had written film reviews for The Boston Banner newspaper (USA) and frequently is a media/entertainment panelist on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM on "The Jordan Rich Show" in Boston, Massachusetts/USA.

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