Film review: Killer Joe

Heather Hampson
Out of the Gutter Online Film Reviewer

Dedicated Gutter readers might have noticed I’ve not posted a review on the site for a while. That’s because I’ve been on holiday (yes, sometimes even us writers have to take a vacation).  So this week’s offering comes courtesy of the very broad-minded Virgin Atlantic who put this spiky little gem in their on-flight entertainment package. 

Pity the poor chick flick fans who must see that former Rom-Com stalwart Matthew McConaughey is in this film, so expecting a banal, saccharine love-fest, gleefully plug their crappy on-flight headphones in and press play. Saccharine Killer Joe, directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist), is definitely not. 

The story, based on a play by Tracy Letts, focuses on a white trash Texan family of loose-morals and looser marbles.  Waster son Chris (Emile Hirsh) convinces his IQ-challenged father to go along with a decidedly unsavoury scheme which involves getting  Dallas-cop-turned-contract-killer,  Joe (McConaughey) to carry out a hit. Chris is short of funds though, so lets Joe take his younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as insurance.  Dottie, despite being a young teenager, and Joe take a liking to each other, and Dottie’s fucked up family seem happy for this relationship to go on, with only Chris eventually objecting and that’s possibly because of sexual jealously.  When Chris turns out to have made a monumentally bad error of judgement, this dysfunctional family dynamic is blown apart.

McConaughey is actually brilliant as the unhinged Killer Joe, dressed in black with a strong Texan drawl he is both sexy and psychopathic at the same time (and yes, there is a little nudity to please the ladies), and the rest of the cast put in great, gutsy performances too. 

Whilst Killer Joe may not go down in history as one of the most controversial films ever made, as The Exorcist did, it is not without notoriety as it was slapped with an NC-17 rating in the US, which no doubt, for some, is a reason to see the film. The violence and sex is in no way gratuitous though, in my humble opinion.  There are a few ghoulish moments to please Exorcist fanatics too. 

Whilst it won’t revolutionise the genre, as Friedkin’s projectile-vomiting possessed kid did, and perhaps The French Connection did too, it’s still a stand-out Southern Noir film with comedy that’s as black as a vat of tar in a power cut.