Published Aug 10, 2012Without any degree of subtlety, William Friedkin's second collaboration with Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tracy Letts, Killer Joe is a distressing work of Southern trailer-trash noir decadence. It's the sort of sweaty, unshaven work of moral depravity that shoehorns contemptible characters into a vacuum of rural Lone Star simplicity, starves them and then throws a scrap of food into the ring just for the sheer pleasure of observing crude, base human instincts.
Said scrap isn't particularly original, coming about when dim bulb Chris (Emile Hirsch) decides to hire the titular killer, Joe (Matthew McConaughey), to murder his mother for the insurance money to pay off some mobsters. And because these things only work with an abundance of plot twists and nefarious motivations, Chris's father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), and new wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) are also in on the plan, as is the seemingly sweet and naïve Dottie (Juno Temple), Ansel's daughter, who is put up for "collateral" when they're unable to pay Joe upfront.
With slanted, shadowy lighting and abrasively nasty dialogue, Letts and Friedkin approach their nasty mood piece with artistic abandon. Friedkin, now in his 70s, doesn't hold back from depravity, mixing sick comedy with shocking acts and the casual insertion of actresses walking around bottomless without batting an eyelash.
Similarly embracing the sleaziness with delightful aplomb, the actors – save a clueless Hirsch – bite into the pulp with full gusto, whether it be McConaughey's lighter-flicking predatory waltz or Gershon's brave, hilarious and ultimately degrading (chicken leg, anyone?) performance as the femme fatale.
It's this fearless collaboration of baroque, over-the-top elements and a lack of self-consciousness about familiarized Southern gothic noir tropes that makes the resultant nervous laughter that much more palpable. With a work so casually unembarrassed with its dirtiness, it's easier for us to muddy ourselves unapologetically before running home to take a shower. (VVS)