Killer Joe is the second collaboration between Oklahoma playwright Tracy Letts and veteran director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection), following the 2006 horror sleeper Bug.
Somewhat less contained than that hotel-room-bound film and far more lurid, this Texas-set neo-noir concerns a trashy makeshift family — working-class dolt Thomas Haden Church, conniving girlfriend Gina Gershon, drug-dealer-in-trouble son Emile Hirsch, and baby sis Juno Temple — whose collective greed and desperation results in a scheme to kill Church's ex-wife and Hirsch and Temple's mother in order to collect the insurance money. To pull this off, they hire Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a black-clad policeman who moonlights as a killer-for-hire.
Killer Joe seems devised, in large part, to turn McConaughey's title character — a suffer-no-fools psychopath whose usual "code" is set aside when he takes an unhealthy interest in Temple's ostensible family innocent, whom he keeps as collateral in lieu of advance payment for the job — into an iconic villain, on the order of Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth (Blue Velvet) or some of the frightening figures played by Robert Mitchum (in Cape Fear and The Night of the Hunter, particularly). McConaughey — increasingly an on-screen presence who's difficult to harness, for good or ill — is up to the challenge. He's the most compelling aspect of a nasty little film that, despite being pretty well-plotted, ultimately lacks much value beyond the prurient.
Perhaps surprisingly, Killer Joe's misanthropic, mischievous shocks are more reminiscent of horror filmmaker Rob Zombie's early work (particularly The Devil's Rejects) than any noir antecedents. And the film's final, now infamous conflagration — the scene that earns the NC17 rating that the filmmakers apparently sought to get rather than avoid — is unpleasant but darkly funny as the solution to a self-imposed problem: How do you construct what is essentially a hardcore pornographic scene without technically crossing that threshold?
Opening Friday, September 28th
Studio on the Square