EIFF 2012: Killer Joe
Posted on Thursday June 21, 2012, 11:48 by Stephen Carty in Under The Radar
Six years after his bonkers paranoia-fest Bug, William Friedkin returns to open the Edinburgh Film Festival with Killer Joe, a difficult and deep-fried adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play. Being adapted from the theatre, Joe is an inevitably talky and (at times) stage-y affair, but more than anything it’s the sort of movie that is difficult to get an immediate handle on – even a couple of hours afterwards. It’s also tempting to compare Friedkin’s ‘comeback’ – part trailer-park thriller, part pitch-black comedy – to something the Coen Brothers might cook up, given the twisted, convention-defying blend of Texan noir flavouring, unsympathetic characters and general mean-spirited vibe.
Certainly, it’s a lingering experience which is likely to split opinion with many unpleasant scenes. Opening the movie with a shot of Gina Gershon’s un-trimmed womanhood, Friedkin sets his stall out early, so that there are absolutely no illusions about what we’re in for. From here, Killer Joe proves intermittently compelling and frequently repulsive, with a handful of sequences sure to be among the year’s most uncomfortable and controversial. Aside from the fact that there’s more bush than if George W. was having a family party in a massive hedge, you know it’s a grim movie when even recurring paedophilia isn’t the most outrageous material on show. No, that honour here belongs to the already-infamous chicken scene, which is sure to put the most hardened stomachs off KFC for life.
As the eponymous killer, Matthew McConaughey is utterly absorbing in an against-type part, proving once again how great he can be given the right role. He’s introduced to us when Chris (Emile Hirsch, who gets beat up a lot) decides to clear his debts by having his estranged mother killed in order to collect her life insurance, a plan that his father Ansel (Thomas Hayden Church, first seen in an adult romper suit) agrees to rather easily. Problem being, McConaughey’s killer-for-hire wants the money up front (which they don’t have), so as a retainer he takes Chris’ virginal young sister Dottie (Juno Temple, living up to her character’s name) as ‘payment’. If you get the drift.
Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Killer Joe is never boring or dull. Unpredictable throughout, it’s a challenging work that probably won’t be to mainstream tastes. As a filmmaker, William Friedkin’s career never really ascended to the heights that many expected after the stunning one-two punch of The French Connection and The Exorcist – still his calling cards – but he’s always had the ability to shock and unsettle audiences. Joe, if nothing else, proves that he hasn't lost his touch.