Killer Joe (2011), directed by William Friedkin

Y’all know I can love a good lurid film. My favourite lurid film this year was The Paperboy which the more I think about, the more I like. I don’t mind my cinematic treats getting down and dirty.

But with Killer Joe I can’t decide if it’s strangely brilliant or utterly worthless.

The film is in that tradition of southern Gothic heat, sex and blood type movies. It takes place in Texas, features lowlife characters living in trailer parks and not batting an eye when one brings up the killing of another. It contains graphic, shocking violence and uncomfortable, just plain wrong sex. Sometimes they’re combined.

It’s certainly an odd film. On one hand it’s a comedy, because this is all so ridiculous and over the top that how could it not be. On the other hand though it takes it’s comedic side pretty seriously, making it an uncomfortable laugh at best.

The acting seems to be intentionally over-the-top. Emile Hirsch jumps around yelling like a crazy person the whole film, Thomas Haden Church revels in the slack-jawed yokel role, while Juno Temple’s childish sex kitten is played like a mentally-deficient Bambi.

Most interesting is Matthew McConaughey, who plays Joe, the glue holding this all together. Joe is the only smart one in the room and, as such, takes advantage of everyone else, playing them like pawns and reaping the benefits for himself.

It’s a caustic performance from McConaughey, who this year has proven he can actually act. He plays the role with deadly precision, his every move deliberate and calculated, creating a aura of menace around his character that you can’t take your eyes off of.

William Friedkin is a barely surviving relic of the New Hollywood era of the late-’60s, early-’70s. He hasn’t popped up much in, oh, 30 odd years, since one flop (the excellent Sorcerer, a remake of Wages of Fear) ruined his career. But before that he was known for directing The Exorcist and The French Connection and winning an Oscar for directing the latter.

He’s directed a handful of known films since then (Rules of Engagement, The Hunted, To Live and Die in L.A.) but this is the first time he has been taken seriously in some time.

I think in the end I wouldn’t say Killer Joe is a great film, but it sure is an interesting little thang. Along with The Paperboy, I think films like this challenge their audience over what they enjoy, what they can stand to watch, how strange they can take it. Killer Joe has a bit more humour to it than The Paperboy but I believe both films come across as very deliberate in their intentions.

As I say, I like lurid and have no problem being entertained by things that make me uncomfortable. Killer Joe made me uncomfortable and that’s probably what I enjoyed most about it. It’s a strange film, for sure, but worthwhile.

Killer Joe is available on home video now.