Killer Joe (2011, William Friedkin)

!!!!! AVOID !!!!!

Banking across decades that you are interested in seeing a new film by “the director of The Exorcist,” this piece of utter scumbaggery comes to us courtesy of writer Tracy Letts (son of Billie), whose specialty is trash-camp that plays within the ugliest shadows of a kind of trailer park Americana. Killer Joe aspires to film noir, presumably; it’s about a hit carried out by Matthew McConaughey in the title role, a showy and nevertheless profoundly terrible performance by a profoundly terrible actor. A family of assholes — the “Smiths,” no less — have him kill their former matriarch so they can collect on some life insurance and so young Chris (Emile Hirsch, coming off like an even emptier Jack Black) can pay off a conveniently theatrical local mob. When Joe can’t get cash for the hit upfront, he treats Chris’ barely pubescent younger sister (Juno Temple) as barter. We get to see them fuck, of course, amid lofty dialogue about childhood; we also see Thomas Haden Church gawk with his son a strip club, we see Gena Gershon exchange a lengthy dialogue sequence with her stepson pantsless, and that’s only the beginning, well before McConaughey forces her to fellate a chicken leg and well before the killing starts. All in the name of satire and wildly overbearing “black comedy,” you see.

In other words, this is supposed to be funny. This is supposed to be funny. William Friedkin thinks this is funny. Huh. I loved Antichrist so I don’t take moral high ground on movies I find this icky and nihilistic, but come on; we know Friedkin is a lecturing moralist because he’s the “director of The Exorcist,” essentially a TBN sermon that fully grown adults actually paid to see and inexplicably continue to. But even if you don’t know this, you can tell he hates these “trashy” types with every fiber of his being, maybe even more than Paul Haggis hates the one-dimensional morons he uses his hammer to tell us about. But he wants to wallow in every second of their misery. Why is it always the obsessive finger-waggers who love most to indulge in and obsess over the behaviors they complain about?

Friedkin equates sex and poverty with the grotesque, and no one gave him Tod Browning’s (or Todd Solondz’s) gift for compassion. He thinks it’s atrocious, just atrocious, y’all, that these awful darn people would put their own seemingly mentally disabled daughter up as barter for a double-indemnity murder scheme, so he makes sure to show us how awful it is with plenty of shots of her being victimized with an innocently faroff fantasy-porn gaze in her eyes. He takes immense pleasure in watching Gershon forced to get on her knees and be humiliated, and more pleasure yet in moronic Thomas Haden Church’s inability to do much of anything about it except kind of chuckle while Hirsch blares on in affected hick accent. They all sit in the shadow of McConaughey, whose primary interest here is in shedding an old image as an empty loverboy, which he manages easily by proving himself an equally empty villain whose posturing and sense of hollow menace are the stuff of a Joel Schumacher movie, or a James Patterson novel.

McConaughey excluded, the entire cast is wonderfully enthusiastic. For a guy who only knows how to play one kind of character, Church is eerily convincing. The creepy-crawliness of Hirsch slightly tempers the one-dimensional predictability of his behavior throughout the film — which, like his character, never justifies its existence. Gershon and Temple are both brilliant, juicing up a movie and a story that simply don’t deserve it. This makes the pure idiocy of the film all the more annoying; is there anything worse than watching people give their all to something this appallingly cynical? This is on a level roughly with horrendous, outrageously misogynistic comedies of the ’80s like Dragnet and Real Men, only their creators never saw fit to stoop so low as to basically film their darkest porn fantasies of domination and victimization, and expect the audience not just to take pleasure in it but laugh at it. It’s not a long walk from this to imagining Salo featured on MST3K. The movie is that lurid and contemptible, and if you comment to tell me I just “don’t get it” I will never speak to you again, get the fuck out of my life, watch the “AWESOMESME” chicken leg fellatio scene every day for the rest of your life for all I care, just please leave me alone.

It would be one of the ten worst movies I’ve ever seen if not for the last fifteen seconds and the first few seconds of the closing credits, which I admit made me laugh, soundtrack choice and all. So that you don’t have to watch the film, an act I would wish on no one, to enjoy the moment, I will describe: after Joe takes his revenge, half-dead piece of meat Juno Temple has just assaulted several members of the family and is about to shoot Joe when she informs him that she is pregnant with his child. He lets his guard down and gets a shake in his voice and says sentimentally “A baby?” and the film immediately cuts to the directorial credit to the tune of Clarence Carter’s “The Stroke.” There, the only good joke in the entire movie; you’re welcome.

The admittedly sharp irony of that final moment doesn’t excuse the lurid excess of everything prior; “black comedy,” ha. What utter nonsense. Let’s see someone screen this back to back with Kind Hearts and Coronets then try to excuse this toxic bilge’s right to be called black-comic anything. I can’t even put into coherent phrases how disgraceful and pointless this whole exercise is. The French Connection was a long time ago; retire, please. What the fuck.

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