Upon arriving at a press screening, depending on the time of day that it's taking place, often us critics are gratefully offered food and drink. Sometimes a sandwich buffet, sometimes just Kettle chips in a bowl, yet at Killer Joe it was a little different, as we were treated to Kentucky Fried Chicken. A buffet. Of KFC. I think it's fair to say I was in somewhat of a good mood going into this one.
Set in modern day Texas, haywire youngster Chris (Emile Hirsch) finds himself owing a vast amount of money to a local drug baron, as he loses a stash he had been given to sell, and it's his very own mother that he suspects to have taken it. Given the tens of thousands of dollars Chris's mum has set aside to leave to her daughter Dottie (Juno Temple) in her will, Chris, Dottie and their father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) mutually decide to hire an assassin to kill the poor woman, allowing Chris to pay off his debts and leaving enough for the rest of them to share.
Chris is directed to a merciless contracted killer, the notorious police detective Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey). Despite Joe demanding a large fee upfront for his actions, Chris can't pay him until he receives the inheritance from his mother’s will, but Joe is a man of morals and needs an early payment, so uses Dottie as a make-weight in the deal, keeping the troubled under-age girl as a retainer, a sexual collateral he is able to hold on to until he receives his payment. However, issues with the life-insurance policy soon throw the entire deal into disrepute.
Directed by the revolutionary and somewhat controversial film maker William Friedkin, Killer Joe begins much as it plays out, with a close-up shot of Gina Gershon's more intimate areas of her body, and it is Gershon who plays victim to one of the most memorably disturbing scenes in recent cinema. Killer Joe is dark, twisted and absolutely mad. Yet however bizarre it becomes, it remains enjoyable throughout, and consistently tense, with a host of scenes that are best watched through the gap in between your fingers. There is also a brilliant pace to this picture, keeping the audience compelled as the plot unfolds. In a similar sense to Fargo, Killer Joe has a fairly simplistic premise, based on an idea that by all rights should run smoothly, yet of course, things simply refuse to go to plan.
Anyway, let's discuss that scene, the scene where the sadistic madness of the production reaches its zenith, making Friedkin's The Exorcist seem like Bob the Builder. I don't want to give too much away, but it involves a chicken drumstick, McConaughey and a somewhat resistant Gershon. It's a sequence that I simply can't stop re-experiencing in my head, which I assure you is not a good thing.
For such an unflinching picture to maximise its excruciating effect upon its audience, much is reliant on the performances of the lead roles, particularly for Joe - and McConaughey is simply brilliant. In what is proving to be a successful year for the often criticised actor, alongside impressive roles in both Magic Mike and Bernie, Killer Joe just about tops the lot as his harrowing portrayal of the heartless killer is creepy and sinister. The other stand out role comes from the young British actress Temple, brilliantly naive and disarranged as the vulnerable Dottie, whilst a quick tipping of the hat must also be directed in the direction of Gershon, simply for her amazing courage and for being so 'game'.
Killer Joe is a truly memorable film and one that is as thrilling as it is disturbing. Given the dark nature of the film I had questioned the surprise offering of KFC prior to going in, but having now seen it, is has all become completely clear. We needed to eat fried chicken before seeing Killer Joe, and I advise you to do the same, because it may just be the last time you ever wish to do so.