Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Killer Joe

By Sati. Tuesday, October 16, 2012 , , , , , , ,

It takes a lot to disturb me. For such a horror movie geek like me, it's really difficult to feel genuinely uncomfortable while watching the movie. I've seen so much messed up stuff in films - mostly due to recent popularity of torture porn trend in horror movies - that I'm now almost completely numb to violence and disturbing scenes in movies. But Killer Joe is so superbly acted out and directed there where plenty of times when I felt genuinely uneasy about what I was watching. It's thanks to the story, based on Tracy Letts 1991's play of the same name that Killer Joe is as twisted and messed up as every review of the film says it is.

The film begins as Chris (Emilie Hirsch) knocks on the door of the trailer where his family lives. The door opens and we are treated to half naked - from the waist down - Gina Gershon, who plays Sharla, Chris's trashy stepmother. Chris takes his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) out for a ride and he shares his problems with him - his mother stole his drugs and sold them and now he owes a lot of money to the very bad people. But Chris has a plan - he wants to hire a killer to murder his mother, so that he could use his mother's insurance money - that are meant to be given to his sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Chris wants to hire a man called Joe to do the deed - to be exact Joe Cooper, police detective who moonlights as a hit man.
As they don't have the money just yet they plan to pay Joe after the insurance money comes in. But Joe doesn't work for free so he wants a retainer - ....he wants Dottie.Chris and Ansel reluctantly agree to this, so Dottie has a "date" with Joe. But as the story progresses there are twists and turns and the most unpredictable thing is Joe himself, who has the whole family in his grasp, revealing throughout the movie just how weak and stupid they really are.

This is one messed up film and it's definitely an acquired taste. There are scenes - such as Joe's seduction of Dottie - that made me feel very bizarre and not in good way. It's an accomplishment of  76-year old (!) William Friedkin, the director of the movie - this is a man who scared the world shitless all those years ago with his Exorcist and with Killer Joe he shows that he is still a masterful director. In a way that seduction scene reminded me of the themes in Exorcist which featured young girl possessed by the demon. Here we have innocent, simple Dottie being courted by this strange, dangerous man. And by the end of the movie, let me tell you, if they said Joe was the Devil incarnated, I'd believe it.
The source of uneasiness lies in superb dialogues and the fact that all of these characters are so weird and unpredictable there is simply no guessing how this whole story will end. Sharla, Ansel and Chris want to kill a woman for her money. The woman in question is someone who tried to kill her own child. Dottie has no problem with them plotting to kill her mother. And Joe doesn't stop what he is doing when Dottie tells him she is 12 (don't worry, her character was actually 20). These are all people who don't deserve sympathy, but because Killer Joe is dark, twisted comedy it didn't bother me for a second. The source of laughs lies at times in situational humour (I couldn't stop laughing at the fact Joe actually brought Dottie flowers) but mostly in dead pan delivery of certain lines and the bizarre things the characters say.

The film has very long scenes with characters talking and the suspense is insane, particularly in the film's last 30 minutes when Joe interrogates Sharla and then the whole family eats dinner. But even before that, every scene plays out with such a sense of peril hanging in the air you can't take your eyes off screen. That peril is Joe - you never know when he may suddenly appear to torment the family some more. The film is at its best when Joe is in the frame - he is a very mysterious character, who basically comes out from nowhere. He is methodical, calm and he always has a plan. That is until the film's finale - it was almost as if a little switch went off in his head, releasing all the madness that he was hiding from others.
Another amazing character is sweet Dottie, who may not be as sweet as you would think. She has tons of stuffed animals in her bedroom and posters of boy bands on her door, she acts in a very peculiar way and she has a moments of being a tease. She is like a Lolita, not perhaps calculating and cold, but very disturbed and without moral compass that would let her distinguish the right from the wrong. It wasn't a big surprise to me that Dottie was the key to the whole story, as she was the only hold on Joe, for whatever reason. The film leaves you guessing many things, particularly because most of the characters are barking mad and there is no way of guessing what is going on inside their heads.

There are tons of very ambiguous moments, mostly involving Dottie and scenes that leave it up to viewer to interpret what could have been the outcome of certain situations. There is plenty of red herrings here too and curious symbolism - with family's dog always barking as if he was warning anyone who enters the trailer because the evil lives there and thunders and lighting bolts, bad sings that bring Joe with them. I mention Joe being a lot like the Devil before, and the whole contract between him and the family, where they basically sell Dottie to him is another thing that made me think that. But Joe is just a guy. Very messed up guy. You have no idea just how messed up he really is.
The film's most discussed scene involves a piece of KFC chicken. Once you see it, you won't be able to eat it ever again. Or you will have to eat it right away. It's hard to say as it seems to have very powerful - and very different - effects on people. The film is rated NC-17 - the highest a movie can get. While it's not as violent as I thought it will be, it is certainly brutal, at times disgusting and often disturbing. The chicken scene is filmed in a very disturbing way that only adds to the tension of the scene and it was probably the reason why the movie was rated this way. It's certainly not a movie for everyone, I cannot stress that enough.

The thing that surprised me the most was how beautiful the movie was filmed - considering the subject matter I was sure the cinematography will be very grim and gritty but the colors are so vibrant and shots so rich I was amazed. The film is flawlessly edited too and the score adds to the uneasy feel of the picture. But the highest compliments need to be paid to Friedkin's amazing direction of this crazy story and the terrific cast. Everyone is doing great job, even Emilie Hirsch who is the weakest link here. Thomas Haden Church delivers hilarious work ("Is that your dick, Ansel?" scene made me laugh the hardest) and Gina Gershon gives brilliant performance as Sharla, she was the one in the whole movie that surprised me the most, as the only person better here was McConaughey and he had the meatiest role to play.
Juno Temple was fearless at playing Dottie, not only finding just the right middle ground between her character's madness and innocence but also being in many brave scenes. While I wasn't as impressed with her performance as I was with Gershon or McConaughey's she delivered very strong work and embodied Dottie. But the real star here is Matthew McConaughey who has now completely turned his career around - just few years ago he was appearing in forgettable, mindless rom coms and now he is not only in good films but he delivers fantastic performances in them too. Killer Joe is definitely his best work - he is calm and creepy at first and then he turns into real maniac near the film's ending. Often polite and alluring, this is a man who hides real psychosis underneath, explosion of violence and gives new meaning to the word "creepy" when he decides to humiliate a certain character.

The films starts out slowly and takes the time to introduce us to all the players in this twisted game - it's more of a character study than anything else. It keeps building up the suspense, never forgetting that this is after all a comedy - often times you end laughing while you are completely horrified by what is happening on the screen. While the faint hearted should definitely avoid this film, I'm glad I'm not the one to faint or puke during movies. I'd miss this wonderful, crazy, perverted and creepy gem of a movie.

Killer Joe (2012, 102 min)
Plot: Finding himself in considerable debt, Chris a Texan drug dealer, decides the only solution is to murder his mother to collect the insurance money. Getting together with his father, the ex-husband of Chris' mother, they decide to hire Joe Cooper a contract killer, who also happens to be a police detective. The plan is that the money will go to Chris' sister Dottie. However due to the size of the contract fee, Chris agrees that Joe can take Dottie as a retainer until the insurance comes through
Director: William Friedkin
Writers: Tracy Letts (screenplay), Tracy Letts (play)
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch and Juno Temple

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48 comments:

  1. Oh oh.. surprising to see such a high score. Can't read the review since I haven't seen it and I don't let myself be spoiled in any ways but still, surprised. I doubt I will like it as much (read: more than Looper).

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    1. It's just my kind of movie, thought it's really acquired taste.

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    2. I am a bit scared of Matthew because I don't really like him. He doesn't seem like a bad actor but something else, personal preference I guess. And I like how my comments end up the first lately.. :D

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    3. I think the film is worth a shot, his work is really great here and I can't say I'm fond of him, though his work here and Magic Mike and Bernie definetly won me over.

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    4. Interesting.. I haven't watched his latest just because I didn't like his earlier work. And that's sad.. I might miss out on a lot of things like that.

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    5. You should give him a chance! :)

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  2. YES! Excellent review! Very glad you enjoyed it.

    I still can't believe I took my wife to this on my birthday...

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    1. Thank you! I loved every minute of it.

      Woah, that's kinda an intense movie for birthday, but it was great so that's a gift there - unique, great film :)

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  3. Good review Sati. The film does sort of fall-asleep at times with all of it’s talking, but is still a very tense flick, mainly because of its well-acted ensemble. Especially McConaughey, who seems to be having an awesome year so far being himself, except with a darker side to him than we’re used to seeing.

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    1. I love the choices McConaughey makes lately, he is completely reinventing himself!

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  4. Argh! You got to see it! Oh my god, I went in not knowing anything about this, and that final scene nearly had me clawing at the walls - but McConaughey is so good! So creepy! And you're right, it was shot really beautifully!

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    1. The film was definetly really intense and creepy :) The cinematography was amazing, I totally didn't see that coming, I thought it will be typical sad, gritty images all around.

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  5. So glad you liked it.
    The whole chicken scene was so disturbingly brilliant. I remember people walking out of the cinema when it was happening haha.

    Great review.

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    1. Haha, no wonder, it was pretty hard to watch :)

      Thank you!

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  6. Fantastic review! I'm officially dying to see this! :)

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    1. Thank you so much! I really hope you'll like it!

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  7. I really want to see this as well. I have heard so much about McConaughey in it and out of nowhere. This NC-17 rating here makes it almost impossible. I will probably have to wait some more.

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    1. I think it's getting released on DVD everywhere soon, NC-17 is justified here but it's mostly because of disturbing factor, the violence is not as bad as in some movies.

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  8. After Lincoln Lawyer and this one it seems that Matthew McConaughey is shedding his rom-com reputation. I'll be seeing this over the weekend and with all the positive ratings its getting, I'm excited.

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    1. I hope you'll like it! He is really chosing fantastic projects lately.

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  9. Excellent review. I'm not sure I'll be seeing this one, but I am really glad to see Matthew McC getting into more dramatic roles. I really liked him in the Lincoln Lawyer.

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    1. Thank you! He was great in Lincoln Lawyer, really liked his work there. He was fantastic in Bernie too, very funny performance.

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  10. Great review Sati. I've been wanting to see this for so long. It's due out on DVD Very soon where I am. So hopefully that wait won't be much longer.

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    1. Thank you! I hope you'll enjoy this one, it's certainly very unique.

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  11. I too was very creeped out when Dottie had her date with Joe. A friend of mine was in this play and I wanted to go, but I would be more freaked out seeing these scenes played out live so I skipped out,plus Ticket prices were too hight for me

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    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one, there were just so many disturbing elements to it - the way he ordered her around, the fact her family left her there with him and that she enjoyed it. And it was filmed in a very intense way.

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  12. I bloody loved this movie when I saw it a while back... Great review

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    1. Thank you! I remember your review, glad you liked it too!

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  13. Great review! I love Juno Temple and Emile Hirsch, I read about the fried chicken scene. It sounds so outrageous and disturbing.

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    1. Than you! If you love them I'm sure you'll enjoy the movie, though indeed it is outrageous and disturbing but certainly fresh and unique too.

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  14. Oh man, I'm still kicking myself for missing this during its theatrical run here. I need to see for myself just how disturbing this is. Glad to hear you enjoyed it so much, Sati!

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    1. If it makes things better it's not necessarily a movie to see in theatres, though I bet the audiance's reaction is fun :)

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  15. This doesn't sound like a film I'd enjoy at all, but glad to see you praising it, Sati. Interesting to see Matthew having a comeback of sort after doing all those rom-coms, he was great in The Lincoln Lawyer.

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    1. He really was, I really love whenever he is playing a lawyer! Makes me want to study more to be such a bad ass :P

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  16. 98? i'm impressed. Also, as Eric, I am bummed I missed this in theaters. I don't know what to do- I don't like thrillers/horror films, and I do like KFC chicken and I want to eat it again, but then again....the cast, the cool direction, the fact that it is a character study! I'm in between, don't know what to do....

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    1. Yeah I really loved it! I love it when movies make me feel uneasy, it's not the emotion I experience frequently. It's more of a character study and a spin on film noir than a thriller, I think you should give it a try! I'd be interested to read your thoughts for sure!

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  17. Great review, Matthew McConaughey was phenomenal, I don't know why all of a sudden he's decided to take such great roles and hit them all out of the ballpark (Bernie, Magic Mike and I can't wait for Mud). The fried chicken thing was one of the most disgusting yet brilliant things I've seen in a while, it was so difficult to watch.

    I really loved the whole neo-noir feel of the assassination storyline, it had a whole Double Indemnity vibe going on.

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    1. Thank you! It was difficult to watch indeed but my eyes were so wide as what I was seeing was so insanely sick.

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  18. Ahhh! So glad you finally got to see it! Wasn't it mesmerizing?? Not only did it give me a greater appreciation for Matthew McConaughey to be out of his typical romcom box, but I haven't felt that uncomfortable from a movie in a LONG time. Glad you liked it as much as I did...knew you would.

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    1. It truly was! Me neither, it was truly bizarre to witness some of the scenes here but at the same time the film was so much fun and it had many amusing moments.

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  19. I am SO glad you liked this one as much as you hoped to. "Certainly brutal, at times disgusting and often disturbing," AND beautiful. That's damn right.

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    1. Me too, it isn't even Oscar season officially and I already gave four 10/10, really awesome year in film.

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  20. I knew you'd love this film! Had a feeling. Definitely the most disturbing films I've seen this year.

    It's really weird, over here it was being marketed as some sort of black comedy. Really, really not even close!

    McConaughey was brilliant. One of the best performances I've seen from him in a LONG time! So damn disturbing. He oozed this charm but then... damn was he dark!

    Great review :)

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    1. It really was creepy. Quite unique too with just the right amount of laughs.

      Well, there were funny elements to it, but I'd say it was primarily a thriller movie.

      He really was! He was very charming but near the end he was one sick bastard :D

      Thanks!

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  21. Great review Sati, glad you enjoyed it! I quite surprised myself by loving this, but I adored it too.

    I completely agree with you, Joe is so charming but so sadistic at the same time!

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    1. Thank you! He was such a great character, really fantastic part for McConaughey to play.

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  22. Saw this two days ago and it was a hard movie to watch...especially since I was trying to do so on public transport. As for the movie itself it is really disturbing and McConaughey was very impressive in it. He has been proving himself lately to be a great actor, not just someone who gets cast for his looks.

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    1. I agree, he appears to be chosing more and more ambitious projects, I can't wait to see what he does next!

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