What's the difference between a dirty joke that's funny and one that's offensive? A: Whether you laugh or not; if you laugh, it's not offensive. That's the best way I can explain why I found Killer Joe to be not the pitch-black comedy a LOT of critics seem to have found it because it simply crosses too many lines too egregiously to get a pass and I'm speaking as someone who considers American Psycho and A Clockwork Orange to be comedies.
Emile Hirsh is Chris, a white trash Texan with a loan shark problem that he thinks can be solved by having his mother killed. His sister Dottie (a frequently naked Juno Temple who was Catwoman's sidekick in The Dark Knight Reloaded) is a child-like young woman who I'm guessing is meant to be retarded from the same mother trying to smother her as a child, but is lucid enough to think it's a good idea. She's also the beneficiary of mom's will and lives with Thomas Haden Church (playing a dumber version of the Lowell character he always does) and his new wife, Gina Gershon. Everyone seems casually on board with the scheme. To do the deed they hire Joe Cooper (a serpentine Matthew McConaughey), a Dallas police detective who decides to take Dottie as a retainer when Chris can't pay the necessary up-front fee of $25,000. He's entranced by this simple girl with the ripe body and her amoral family doesn't seem to mind the seamy arrangement.
There are so many ways Killer Joe goes off the rails that I'm going to need several trains to cover them all. First off, none of the characters are compelling. Hirsch is a moron; Church is dim; Temple's best assets are external; Gershon almost makes something of her thin character, but suffers the most. And suffering is the fatal flaw here - the brutality and degradation suffered by Hirsh and Gershon is repellent because it's gratuitous. William Friedkin, the director of classics like The Exorcist and The French Connection had an insane defense of the violence which pulled an NC-17 rating by saying to cut the violence would destroy the movie in the same way the Vietnam War was sold as needing to destroy the country to save it. Huh? Get over yourself, Billy.
If you've heard anything about Killer Joe, it's probably a reference to "the chicken leg scene" in which Gershon simulates fellatio on a piece of "K Fry C" and with her sexy background in films like Showgirls and Bound, that sounds like fun (amirite?) but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, it's not fun at all! At this point late in the movie, the murder plot has naturally gone sideways and bass-ackwards and tensions are running high. In an explosive bit of violence, McConaughey smashes Gershon in the face, bloodying it badly and then forces her to suck the chicken leg has he holds it in his crotch. That a lot of critics and people I've noted online raving about the movie were so cool with this level of depravity really says a lot about how our society has slid into the ravine.
It's all a matter of tone. My girlfriend was very disturbed by the movie, but she's a huge David Lynch fan and tried to equate this to Blue Velvet. I haven't seen that since it's release in 1986 in a theater full of skeeved-out suburbanites, but I think the difference is that the people in Lynch's fantasia clearly don't exist in this world - if someone like Dennis Hopper or Dean Stockwell does exist, I want off of this rock, stat! - and violent stupid people in trailer parks do. Contra Friedkin's whining, it wouldn't have harmed the movie if they'd toned down this scene and an earlier beating Hirsch takes. It's not like watching zombies stabbed in the face on The Walking Dead, you know?
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? Well, since we never see the mother alive, we don't know what it's so important she be dead. Gershon's character is seeing the mother's new husband and the two apparently are orchestrating everything, but I'm not sure how Joe gets wind of the caper. The movie seems satisfied with believing smug attitudes towards hicks is enough and perhaps those who like this movie are responding to that. Also, if the cop cars didn't say Dallas Police on the side, there is nothing to indicate this isn't set in some podunk Texas plains town because you never see the city.
Needless mean and brutal and nowhere near entertaining enough to make the misery worth the feeling you'll need a shower after watching it, Killer Joe is a heap of woe thinking it's the peak of whoa. It's too bad because the performances are actually decent as far as the script allows. Between this,The Lincon Lawyer and Bernie, McConaughey's career has taken a turn into respectable thespian territory - no Surfer, Dude here - but his menace is overexposed. A judicious edit wouldn't have made this into a good film, but it sure would've been less disgusting.
Score: 2/10. Skip it.