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Killer Joe


Year: 2011 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: Unknown 
Certificate: BBFC 18 Cert – Not suitable for under 18s 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by William Friedkin 
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple  
An image from Killer Joe

The second collaboration from Pullitzer Prize-winning Tracey Letts and Oscar-winning William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, Killer Joe is a raw noir fusion of bristling dialogue and perversely entertaining chills. Their first collaboration, Bug, garnered critical acclaim and controversy and Killer Joe ups the ante, delivering both in double measure.

All pit-bulls, trailer-parks and drug deals, the setting is unadulterated small-town trash, enriched by characters of thoroughly degenerate dysfunction. Despite the Texan backdrop, McConaughey is in unfamiliar terrain; a far cry from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, the rom-com icon simmers with twisted, toe-curling menace in his role as a detective moonlighting as eponymous hitman Killer Joe.

Drug-running dirtbag Chris (Hirsch) hires the reputable (and certifiable) Killer Joe to whack his mother (Gershon) and thereby use the insurance pay-out to rectify a drug debt, having convinced his father (Haden Church) that no-one would miss her. Demanding Chris’ virginal sister Dottie (Temple) as partial down payment, McConaughey revels in Joe’s bizarre, sleazy psychosis. Ever the romantic, the curious chemistry generated with co-star Temple is both unsettling and unmissable, particularly during one ‘date’ sequence, as the plot careers along an unpredictable, off-the-rails trajectory.

Killer Joe’s now-notorious appetite for chicken strips, as the cast gathers for a suitably atypical family dinner, was central to a battle with the film certification authorities and, released uncut, the movie’s controversy is warranted, delving into dark and uncomfortable viewing. However, Letts and Friedkin never surrender the pre-eminence of plot and moments of unease are punctuated by a pitch-black humour expertly executed by scene-stealers Haden Church and McConaughey. Family drama, rom-com and noir thriller, Killer Joe is a uniquely sinister treat, boasting the added perk of a stomach-churning double-think before diving into a bargain-bucket anytime soon.

Eoin Dignan

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Screenings of this film:

2012/2013 Autumn Term (digital)