SXSW Movie Review: KILLER JOE Is Southern Gothic Turned Very, Very Weird

William Friedkin's latest is something else, I'll tell you that. 

William Friedkin, god bless him, has delivered a riotous, dark, bizarre triumph with Killer Joe, a singular fuck-you of a film from the play by the same name. Playwright Tracy Letts also wrote the screenplay, and the film retains a theatrical quality that calls to mind Agatha Christie or Christopher Bond - while drenched in the bleakest, blackest comedy imaginable. 

Matthew McConaughey plays Killer Joe Cooper, a lanky Texas police detective who does a little assassinating on the side. Chris (Emile Hirsch) and Ansel (Thomas Hayden Church) are an idiot father-son duo determined to have Chris' mother killed so they can score a $50,000 insurance policy, and after Killer Joe takes a liking to Chris' dotty sister Dottie, they have very few qualms in offering her up as a retainer. Ansel's second wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) gets in on the action, and the family dynamic soon spins apart in spectacularly weird fashion.

Killer Joe is so many things - colorful, gory, disturbing, sexy, hilarious - but more than anything, it's unpredictable. Friedkin's sensibility is always so dynamic, with the only common ground between his films a conspicuous eccentricity and his uncompromising devotion to the story at hand. Killer Joe is no different, and the moment the film opens, the audience just buys it. The most unthinkable things happen in this movie, and yet we easily accept everything that takes place on screen because Friedkin has established a universe that he believes in entirely. We can't help but believe in it too, despite our best wishes to make it all go away. 

All of the performances are bright and committed. McConaughey's turn as a demented killer is surprisingly convincing, and Juno Temple shines as the moony object of his perverse affection. Emile Hirsch is charming and moronic, and Gina Gershon is extraordinarily good as the bitter, manipulative Sharla. Gershon destroys the role, tackling some seriously provocative, often degrading business with dedicated intensity. With all of the wild antics onscreen, I hope Thomas Hayden Church's low-key turn won't go unnoticed. Ansel's mild resignation brought the biggest laughs of many in the film. 

Killer Joe is a movie that inhabits its own space and doesn't give a shit if you join it there or not. Friedkin, Letts and the entire cast barrel ahead through incredibly strange, dark territory, never looking back to see if the audience is keeping up. But those who do won't regret it.