Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012 – Killer Joe (2011)

Killer Joe, 2011.

Directed by William Friedkin.
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon and Juno Temple.


A down-and-out family in Texas decide to kill their alcoholic mother for her $50,000 life insurance policy, and hire the eponymous Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey) to do the job. Not being able to afford a cash retainer, they give him their daughter Dottie (Juno Temple) instead…

Killer Joe is the opening film of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012, which is being covered by yours truly, Samantha Morrison. Described as a ‘black hole comedy’ by its director William Friedkin, it certainly packs a punch! First performed as a play in Edinburgh back in 1997, its stage roots are obvious. There are only five main characters, interacting in primarily one location, their trailer. There’s Ansel, the father (Thomas Haden Church), Sharla, the step-mother (Gina Gershon), Chris, the misfortunate son (Emile Hirsch), and Dottie, the ethereal daughter (Juno Temple).

The film opens on a dark night, in a veritable monsoon. A vicious dog on a chain is barking incessantly, and a man is banging on the door of a trailer. Grimy, mostly grey, and reeking of destitution, this opening two minute scene reflects the mood and character of the next 103 minutes.

The door opens, and the man (revealed to be Chris) is confronted with Gershon’s naked lower half. There follows a line, ‘I can’t concentrate with your bush staring at me, go put some clothes on!’ This sets the tone for the obscenely and continually dysfunctional family relationships. What would be abhorrent to most, loaning their sister/daughter to a hit-man, turns out to be quite a speedy decision for this “white trash” bunch.

It’s an issue that has been picked up by a fair few reviewers. The women in this film are not treated at all kindly; Dottie is essentially sold, and Sharla is beaten and humiliated. It smacks of misogyny, especially as not one character attempts to prevent these atrocities. But then, the entire film is a spiral of destruction and degradation that no character escapes from. It’s more than just misogyny; it’s a catalogue of the horrors humans can commit when at their lowest.

Juno Temple is excellent as the beautifully pure and naive Dottie, whose bed is littered with soft toys and walls are decorated with Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. She is a delicate balance between awkward and assertive; between adolescent and adult. Her attachment to Joe shows her desperation for love, made even more sad for the audience, who know that it cannot possibly end well.

Matthew McConaughey, for me, was a somewhat odd casting choice. I have a fairly illustrious romcom background, making his roles in films such as How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days hard to shake. As such, his performance as a ruthless killer felt a bit silly to me, though viewers less familiar with his romantic forays will probably find him perfectly convincing.

As the film rumbles towards an inevitably doomed ending, we’re treated to some unforgettable scenes involving a little black dress, some KFC and a tin of pineapple. I congratulated myself upon making it to the end, but it so outrageously goes above and beyond that even I had to cover my eyes. This film revels in courting controversy, and it does it so successfully, that you won’t know if you love it or hate it for hours!

A whirlwind of violence, sexual exploitation and perversion, Killer Joe is both horrifically unpleasant and morbidly entertaining. Watch with caution.

Flickering Myth Rating Film ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Samantha Morrison

  • Nobody

    Matthew got his start in horror films – see Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He only (relatively) recently switched on to the romantic lead… Hence, I'm guessing, this casting choice.

  • http://twitter.com/RohanMM Rohan Michael Morbey

    Really looking forward to this one. Anything from Friedkin is a must see for me.