‘I don’t think I’ll have to kill her. Just slap that pretty face into hamburger meat.’
– Jim Thompson dialogue from Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing
At one point during William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, an unexpected roundhouse to the face turns its recipient’s visage into a pulpy, swollen, glistening, blood-caked skillet of corned beef hash. Said recipient is then forced at gunpoint to fellate a grease-drenched KFC drumstick and moan in ecstasy while family members have little choice but to witness this horrendous act of violence and humiliation.
William Friedkin, it seems, has his mojo back.
He’s found it in the muse of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts. The two collaborated in 2007 on the nerve-wracking film adaptation of Bug, a paranoia-laden thriller with Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd. Set mostly within the dank, smoky confines of a sleazy motel room, both dialogue and character were scrumptiously Gothic. The story was full of unexpected beats, driving the action forward with so much mystery that we could never see what was coming. Alas, Letts lost command of his narrative in the final third, veering into predictability. In spite of this, Bug was still one of the most compelling and original works of its year.
Killer Joe is a total whack job of a movie, and delightfully so.
Set against the backdrop of Texas white trash, the picture opens with a torrential downpour that turns the mud-lot of a trailer park into the country cousin of war-torn Beirut. Amidst tire tracks turning into small lakes, apocalyptic squalor and lightning flashes revealing a nasty barking mastiff, a scruffy Chris (Emile Hirsch), drenched from head to toe, bangs on the door of a trailer. When it creaks open, a muff-dive-view of the pubic thatch belonging to his ne’er do well dad’s girlfriend Sharla (Gina Gershon) leads Chris to the bleary-eyed Ansel (Thomas Haden Church).
Chris desperately needs to clear up a gambling debt and suggests they order a hit to knock off his mom, Ansel’s ex-wife. She has a whopping life insurance policy and its sole recipient is Dottie (Juno Temple), the nubile, mentally unstable sister and daughter of Chris and Ansel respectively. Once they collect, Chris proposes they split the dough.
To secure the services of the charming Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) they need to pay his fee upfront. Father and son propose Joe take a commission on the insurance money once it pays out. This is initially not an acceptable proposal until Joe catches sight of the comely Dottie. He agrees to take the job in exchange for a ‘retainer’ - sexual ownership of Dottie.
Father and brother of said sexy teen agree to these terms, though Chris betrays some apprehension as he appears to bear an incestuous interest in his dear sister.
From here, we’re handed plenty of lascivious sexuality, double crosses, triple crosses and eventually, violence so horrendous, so sickening that even those with strong stomachs might need to reach for the Pepto Bismol.
Basically, we’re in Jim Thompson territory here. It’s nasty, sleazy and insanely, darkly hilarious.
This celluloid bucket of glorious untreated sewage is directed with Friedkin’s indelible command of the medium and shot with a terrible beauty by ace cinematographer Caleb Deschanel.
Friedkin, the legendary director of The French Connection, The Exorcist and Cruising, dives face first into the slop with the exuberance of a starving hog at the trough and his cast delivers the goods with all the relish needed to guarantee a heapin’ helpin’ of Southern inbred Gothic.
This, my friends, is the kind of movie they don’t make anymore.
Trust William Friedkin to bring us back so profoundly and entertainingly to those halcyon days.
Oh, and if you’ve ever desired to see a drumstick adorned with Colonel Sanders’ batter, fellated with Linda Lovelace gusto, allow me to reiterate that you’ll see it here.
It is, I believe, a first.