10 July 2012
KILLER JOE (Dir. William Friedkin, 2011, US) – Family Values
William Friedkin’s adaptation of Tracy Lett’s 1993 play ‘Killer Joe’ gives us things which a lot of American films tend to avoid these days; sex and violence. I’m not sure if Friedkin ever ventured into the territory of fantasy or the child’s point of view yet most of his contemporaries including Martin Scorsese have done so. Does that mean Friedkin’s oeuvre in terms of serious, adult content (not in the pornographic sense) has remained more consistent over the years than his contemporaries? From his latest film Killer Joe it certainly feels as though it has. The last time I witnessed audience members exiting a film screening was last year’s Tree of Life. Whereas the reason for audience polarisation with Malick’s transcendental work was largely religious or theological, Killer Joe was good old fashioned revulsion – oh shit, I can’t handle this! Or this is surely in bad taste. I guess the sex and violence in Killer Joe is in bad taste but of course, that’s the real point of the film – an attempt to gauge audience opinion on the way taste has become an indicator of the way we lead our lives. It is easy to read the duplicitous, amoral killer played devilishly by Matthew McConaughey as a collective projection of sin. The white trailer trash family that hires Killer Joe to murder their mother so that they can claim the insurance payout is an aberration of the American dream – a grotesque and perverted statement on family values. In terms of genre, Killer Joe could be categorised as a neo noir but the unsettling mood created by Joe’s violent temperament also invokes the horror film. Joe maybe a monster but he is a monster who seems to be conjured up the deepest anxieties of the family and his mysterious persona adds to the argument of his unworldly presence. The noirish accents are familiar enough to us including the act of betrayal, the doomed male protagonist, the femme fatale and a crushing fatalism but it is the sexual corruption of the youngest member of the family, the affable Dottie (Juno Temple) that gives the film a discernibly nasty edge. Friedkin finds it difficult to shake off the theatrical nature of this piece yet with the final sequence in the trailer he delivers a memorable, if not repugnant, dinner table sequence involving one of the most innovative uses of fried chicken ever seen in an American film. Killer Joe certainly suggests that Friedkin is still a provocative filmmaker.