Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Killer Joe

2011. Dir: William Friedkin. Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church. ●●●●○

I think I'm beginning to see my problem. I get actively turned off by well-adjusted characters, mild middle class dysfunction simply doesn't excite me, I need barely concealed breakdowns and trailer trash histrionics before my pulse is even slightly raised. Needless to say Killer Joe delivers in buckets, from the opening shots we are treated to the desperate machinations of our central family unit, only too aware of the potential complications of inviting in the eponymous devil. From then on I was hooked by the grand guignol - extreme violence, simulated fellatio and all.

Emile Hirsch arrives at a trailer in North Texas, close to the Oklahoma border, drenched he screams into the unit for his sister (Juno Temple) to open the door. Alas his younger sibling, cocooned in her Disney Princess fantasy at the end of the trailer, doesn't budge but Step-mom Gina Gershon, suspiciously underdressed, does so. Unimpressed Hirsch calls his father (Thomas Haden Church) and, after a quick visit to the local strip club, he outlines his plan to hire "Killer Joe", a local detective with a sideline in contract murder, to execute the missing matriarch and claim the insurance money to pay off hi drug debts. It's a lurid and fast-paced opener, that effectively introduces our family unit and establishes their types - desperate Hirsch, pathetic Church, slutty Gershon and (faux?) innocent Temple.

Into this clan of screw-ups and victims walks Matthew McConaughay, and immediately we know this is not the laid back rom-com hero we know and love. Tightly wound yet outwardly laconic, he portrays a suffocating blend of southern gent and malicious snake. It's the kind of tour de force performance that will completely sideswipe his previous fans and certainly makes me even more excited for his upcoming turns in Magic Mike and The Paperboy.

Unable to pay the necessary advance Hirsch offers his sister as a retainer, perhaps a colossal error for the confused waster as he appears to harbour complex psychosexual desires for her - something barely hinted at in the screenplay but clearly present in Hirsch's performance. Joe's first sexual encounter with his temporary possession is appropriately un-nerving, and whilst it may not be the rape some critics are suggesting it's certainly indicative of Joe's power fixation and Temple's apparent desire to be thought of as more innocent than she may be. Temple alternates between accusing and breathily seductive, her line reading of "Your eyes hurt" alone reminds us she's one of the most exciting young British actresses on the screen.

Before long the deed is done, but the aftermath is suitably grotesque as double cross and duplicity is revealed and each character must make a moral choice, and there's certainly nowhere to hide in the final act. A fried chicken take away meal becoming the basis for sexual humiliation, repeated beatings and swift justice.

William Friedkin has adapted from Tracy Letts' play, and where sometimes the staginess of the source material shows, this only seems to exemplify the sleaziness of the situation and necessary claustrophobia. With this and Bug you have to say the duo have created a fantastic working partnership and I can't help but wonder what else in Lett's back-catalogue they could have a go at.

Killer Joe is an uncomfortable watch, but necessarily so, like many familial tragedies before it the audience shudder at the nastiness of the set-up whilst chuckling at the blackest of comedic moments. Superbly involving this is one of my top recommendations of the year so far.

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