“Killer Joe”: How art thou, thou globby bottle of cheap, stinking chip oil?

Sordid and sweaty, this new Southern Gothic hothouse film flaunts its 18 certificate at almost every opportunity, beginning with Chris (Emile Hirsh) paying a late-night visit to his father’s trailer only to be faced by the naked, hirsute genitalia of his avaricious stepmother (Gina Gershon, who clearly has not a single reservation on her acting contract). We soon discover that Chris is in debt and plans on hiring a moonlighting detective (Matthew McConaughey) to murder his alcoholic mother in order to reap the rewards of her will.

The film holds no pretensions for exploring psycho-sexuality or familial bonds, favouring gross stereotypes of deservingly poor rednecks (Thomas Haden Church’s dimwit might as well have been called Cletus The Slack-Jawed Yokel) and employing conspicuously black-and-white dichotomies (e.g. the virginal innocent of Juno Temple versus the unabashed whore of Gina Gershon) instead. Although Letts and Friedkin may be accused of single-minded cartography in this sense – Chris, the film’s protagonist, is certainly no Richard Chance or Popeye Doyle – there’s still plenty to enjoy when the film embraces its sleazy wit and pulp fiction origins.

As is usually the case with Friedkin’s filmography, vice is an all-consuming force, a Pandora’s box that enraptures the flawed family unit, culminating in a stagebound Jacobean setpiece of gonzo gore that makes you question whether KFC ever read the screenplay before buying its lurid product placement. ‘Killer Joe’ is a welcome change from the mellowing that too often accompanies a mainstream director’s slide into senescence (I’m looking at you, Ford Coppola) and the choice of Clarence Carter’s filthy but fantastic single “Strokin'” for the end credits hammers this point home nicely.

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