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Matthew McConaughey
Juno Temple
Emile Hirsch
Thomas Haden Church
Gina Gershon.
William Friedkin.
Tracy Letts.
Running Time
103 minutes

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Killer Joe
Blood simpletons

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In debt to local goons, Chris Smith (Hirsch) and his lowlife family hire Killer Joe (McConaughey) to bump off his mother for the insurance money. A plan he really hasn’t thought through.

Killer Joe
Like fellow 1970s firebrand Francis Coppola, William Friedkin has grown content with the small and stagey. His latest film is based on a play by Pulitzer Prize-winning Tracy Letts, as was his last — the paranoiac Bug. Killer Joe was shot in 19 days, in a pocketful of Texan locations, gifting actors with mesmerising monologues to show off their chops. Sophisticated stuff, if you discount ersatz fellatio with a chicken drumstick.

Friedkin may have economised his grandstanding, but The Exorcist’s enfant terrible has hardly thrown in his lot with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’s early birds. His new film has landed the notorious NC-17 rating in America for its lather of sex, violence, violent sex, and violent sex-related simulation. The atmosphere is as sticky as flypaper, the humour black as the inside of a rooster, and its offensive intensity will send you reeling in search of a shower.

We greet the dangerously dim-witted and unappetising Smith clan at their wits’ end (somewhere you suspect they frequent as regularly as the liquor store). Idiotic drug-bum Chris (jumping-bean Emile Hirsch), in hock to local goons, has turned to his even more acumen-deficient pop Ansel (showcasing Thomas Haden Church’s gift for the guileless) and suspiciously game stepmom Sharla (Gina Gershon, who apparently has a ‘no underwear’ clause in her contract) to hire a hitman to execute his matricidal scam. Enter silk-smooth Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a cop with an extracurricular line in murder, who is persuaded to work on a promise, as long as Chris’ younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple) serves as collateral.

Quite what genre we are loitering in is open to question. Killer Joe is Texan trailer-trash neo-noir, stage adaptation, crime-gone-wrong fable, and scuzzy, Tennessee Williams-on-crack family meltdown with a dubious line in female full-frontal. More lurid than the Coens, less self-aware than Tarantino, it’s Carnage with thickos; but Friedkin is in control, searching for light in very murky places.

Walking a perilously thin line between misogyny and applied depravity, he’s turned in a perverse spin on Cinderella — only innocent-with-a-twist Dottie’s Prince Charming is a scumbag in a big hat with “eyes that hurt”. McConaughey gives the film its Mephistophelean pull: his line-delivery lacquered with honeyed menace, he summons a dread-like gravity — a vilely hilarious stride along his quest to prove he is more than the jutting prow of Kate Hudson rom-coms.

Family dysfunction to make Jeremy Kyle blush, but thanks to McConaughey’s oily power and Friedkin’s unflinching purpose it’s a compelling beast.

Reviewed by Ian Nathan

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Killer Joe
Empire Star Rating

RE: Killer Joe

They are scummy, nasty, vicious and pitch perfect. I believe this is a modern masterpiece and shows just how great William Friedkin can be. He nailed this and made a movie for adults. ... More

Posted by Levorlla at 10:44, 19 February 2015 | Report This Post

RE: Killer Joe

This movie was a bit tame if you ask me. It takes it useless characters to same pretty dark and comic places, but the climax is just hysterical. If Gina Gershon's character was punished in a less random and demented way I think this movie would have deserved four stars. But, Seriously? ... More

Posted by Jasper_29 at 09:53, 09 February 2015 | Report This Post

"This is lovely. Now, who would like to say grace?"

An abundance of brutal violence and aberrant sexuality is on display in Killer Joe, a shocking return to form for William Friedkin. Be warned, the film is not for everyone: the humor is pitch black, the characters cruel and even sadistic, and the climax the most genuinely disturbing creation since the infamous "dinner scene" that ended The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 01:13, 10 November 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Killer Joe

Really enjoyed it, but it does get a bit weird in places. ... More

Posted by moviebuff73 at 10:04, 06 May 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Gleefully Twisted, Disgracefully Funny

Quite an odd film but I liked most parts, except for the ending. Matthew McConaughey's role as Joe was really convincing and terrifying throughout the film but I really hated Gina Gershon's character as Emile Hirsch's mum. The family was sure as hell twisted, I can certainly say that. Decent film but not as great obviously compared to The Exorcist. ... More

Posted by adamthehorrorfan at 09:34, 21 April 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Gleefully Twisted, Disgracefully Funny

Demented and vile. I rather liked it. ... More

Posted by Davross at 19:47, 09 March 2013 | Report This Post

Gleefully Twisted, Disgracefully Funny

Can I just start by saying, kudos to Matthew McConaughey, who has managed to tackle a different role and do it surprisingly well. Now, the review. In an age where EVERYONE is doing funny-horror, it's nice to see that there are still people who aren't afraid to take risks. Killer Joe is a horrendously depraved experience, but it's also brilliantly comical. The humour is grisly and about as dry as you can get, but the tone of the film carries this effortlessly, leaving the viewer wondering whether... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 11:53, 24 February 2013 | Report This Post

From Dusk Till Dawn

I may be doing From Dusk Till Dawn a disservice and as usual I am comparing two films that are completely different in almost every way. However, as with FDTD, I was really enjoying this film right up until the last scene, which was totally ridiculous. It completely ruined what was a really interesting thriller with some really good performances. I havent read Empires review but with a different last scene this certainly would have got 4 stars for me. As it is it stays with 3. Good but not great... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by guysalisbury at 09:54, 13 February 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Killer Joe

Three stars? Harsh beans. Watched this tonight. One of the finest, twisted, comical hick-noir movies you're likely to see. Terrific performances all round (how McC wasn't nominated for anything is beyond me, guess this isn't safe Oscar fodder). ... More

Posted by UTB at 23:33, 12 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Killer Joe

It's classic neo-noir, those complaining about unlikable characters are very much missing the point, or at the least they be dabbling in the wrong style of film. ;-)   Reprehensible!? Love it. :-) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JohnChard at 04:55, 03 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: My Wife Liked It

What do I think about this film? It's depraved and morally reprehensive. It is about a horrible family and a horrible man doing progressively horrible things. If that's what you're looking for, you got it. I didn't hate the film either. I laughed at the many black comedy throughout the film. I was engaged, nay, thrilled at McConaughey's performance - and Friedkin's show-stopping direction. "Killer Joe" is a film that will remain for a long while in the mind after viewing. Especially the rivetin... More

Posted by carleslempner at 02:43, 03 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: My Wife Liked It

Killer Joe (2011) Warning, the term 'trailer trash' and other derogatory slang terms for Southern State Americans will probably be used too much in this review. Wasn't sure what to expect with this film but you do get the gist of it pretty quickly as things kick off. The films poster describes what it is and I can't really disagree, a redneck, white trailer trash, hick, corn on the cob chewing murder thriller with a strange fetish for fried one scene. The plot is str... More

Posted by Phubbs at 07:11, 29 November 2012 | Report This Post

My Wife Liked It

I took the wife to see this little gem and to my surprise - she liked it. My film choices are superb (in my opinion) but "Blue Velvet" did not go down well. So....... when the dark violent humour started springing up in Killer Joe - I started to worry. I think it worked well because the film took the time to flesh out all the characters so you cared about what happened to them. It's really a bit of a "blokes" flick with the storyline and scene set ups. So good to see it can also appeal to ... More

Posted by russelblair at 14:32, 08 October 2012 | Report This Post


Half way into this film and you'll start wondering how far are they going to take this? I agree with JCR. It's worth more than three stars. Not quite Jo Nesbos' Headhunters terrority but still definitely worth a look. I always wondered what happened to Gina Gershon - she was quite tasty once - well...actually she still is. Never going to eat my KFC in quite the same way after watching this though....FOUR STARS ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ROTGUT at 18:55, 11 July 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Wild At Heart And Weird On Top.

Strange film.It's like a cross between Braindead and Drive,but not as cool. Mc Conaughey goes dark then ruins it with a bizarre ending,3 stars is about right. ... More

Posted by TragicRomantic at 06:16, 07 July 2012 | Report This Post

Wild At Heart And Weird On Top.

Almost a mixture of David Lynch and The Coens. McConaughey's Joe gives Bobby Peru a run for his money. I enjoyed watching Killer Joe as a slice of something truly independent and different. It's not for everyone, but for those not afraid of jet black dark humour and down right weirdness, this film is not a waste of time by any means. Beautifully shot, Killer Joe look fantastic on the big screen. The music and Score worked well throughout, pepping up particularly when the end credits roll. The ca... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Rich Empire at 23:32, 04 July 2012 | Report This Post

What is it with Empire?

How on earth can Empire give this gem of a film 3 stars, the same as Snow Plank & the Dunceman? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Countlopez at 12:44, 03 July 2012 | Report This Post


My main problem with the movie is that Hirsch's character is so stupid and unlikeable. There's almost not enough of McConaughey, the final scene though... it's unpleasantness alone make it a must-see. But, not in a good way. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 18:17, 01 July 2012 | Report This Post

Brutal, bush-filled brilliance.

If topiary ain’t your thing, look away now. Fuzzy shrubs, trimmed or otherwise, are hard to miss in this rather lady-garden obsessed film; in fact I would go so far to say there was more bush in this movie than the White House. Circa 2001, that is. And yes, excuse my squeamishness, but some of it might have been somewhat gratuitous. Ok. So, extreme confronting nudity aside, I have to admit, this film became quite the unexpected guilty pleasure. I mean, there really is something ab... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by thebackseatdirector at 14:15, 30 June 2012 | Report This Post

Can I erase this movie from my mind?

Billed as William Friedkin's come back movie and with a great cast, I had high hopes for it. But boy was I wrong! Unlikeable character's did deprave things for the sake of it which seems to be the director's instructions to the actors as well which is let's see how far we can push this, logic and plot be damned. Had it even decent dialog I could have forgiven it but not even that. Just shows what masters the Coen brothers are who can spin a great yarn with similar characters and locations. This... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by waqas5050 at 15:47, 27 June 2012 | Report This Post

I didn't like it. Much.

It's pretty funny in places. A bit crazy for sure. And yes, McConaughey gives a fine performance.. But I just didn't think it was that great. Definitely not one for the average cinema goer methinks! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by PlanetNish_dotcom at 02:33, 27 June 2012 | Report This Post

It's a comedy, Empire.

And it's worth more than 3 stars, you fence sitters. It may slouch in the middle a little, but the final scene is bonkers in a way no film has been, at least since the early Peter Jackson films, and those who enjoy that sort of thing will adore this. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JCR at 02:01, 27 June 2012 | Report This Post

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