I’m so shell-shocked from this movie I’m having trouble writing about it.
When Chris, a not so great guy from a not so great family ( Emile Hirsch) has a stash of drugs stolen from him by his mom, he has to come up with cash quick, or he’s dead. He and his father, Ansel (Thomas Hayden Church) hatch a plan to kill the mom and collect on her life insurance policy. And Chris knows just the guy to do the job – Killer Joe, a Dallas detective who happens to be a hit-man on the side. Too bad they can’t afford to pay his retainer…until Joe spots Chris’s sweet little sister Dottie (Juno Temple) and decides that sexual collateral will do just the trick.
This film is trash. Trash trash, not trailer trash. Don’t be fooled by the actual trailer park. These people aren’t just hicks, they’re actual filthy, morally bankrupt people. This fact is established very very quickly – it’s immediately vulgar, over-the-top vulgar, and that’s before the beaver gets flashed in your face. Chris’s stepmom (Gina Gershon) has no boundaries and apparently no pants. Letts, the playwright, is adept with fucked up families (think August: Osage County) but this one takes the cake.
So I was repulsed by this movie, and this from the girl who didn’t blink once while watching Sin City a few weeks ago. My revulsion was knee-jerk and I went straight for the “bad movie” label – bad, bad movie. But I didn’t turn it off. And as I watched more, I realized that the badness is on purpose. It’s the point. You’re not supposed to like these people. This film is showing us a very dirty, seedy class of people. The badness is actually pretty expertly done, which doesn’t mean it’s easy to watch.
Enter Matthew McConaughey, a southern gentleman and a breath of fresh air. His demeanor is calm, his drawl is polite. He injects the movie with a much-need hit of stillness that lets us catch our breath after all the frenetic coarseness. The audience wants to eat him up which is a very effective device because it turns out he’s just as morally reprehensible and probably the most soulless character yet. He just has a more polished facade.
There’s so much tension in this movie that occasionally a giggle will bubble up, guiltily, without relieving even an ounce of the tension. This movie will make your jaw ache. It’s brutal. It’s sadistic. There so much fetishistic sexual cruelty that you won’t know where to look. If you’re comfortable exploring dark, nasty, demented sides of people without every really scratching the surface, then by all means, you won’t do better than this movie. I sort of hesitate to call it exploitation cinema, but isn’t that what it means? To be a voyeur in this condemnable underworld and enjoy watching the bloody violence and perversion vicariously? But Killer Joe has the capacity to really catch people off guard, and not in a good way. (You won’t ever eat fried chicken again.) It’s provocative but doesn’t really attempt to teach us anything. The characters are not remotely redeemable, but neither is the movie. Galling, outrageous, and ultimately superficial. And as polarizing as the movie is, just wait til you get to the end.
(And if by chance you’ve landed on this site just needing to talk about what you’ve seen, then please take the chance to do so in the comments. Assholes Watching Movies is providing a public service: vent, ask questions. Others be forewarned that there may be spoilers.)