KILLER JOE comes right after BUG, Friedkin's other stage play adaptation which have returned the American filmmaker to better grounds. Both of them center in the small squared-life of rednecks and their fast descent into a tragedy of no return.
The storyline should be considered a sub-genre in itself: A thriller of debt re-payment. Here young drug dealer Chris owes money to some very bad guys and in his stoned surreal world, he decides (after some easy convincing) that killing his mother to cash in her insurance is the best way to temporarily solve it. To do this, Chris convinces his moronic father to hire the services of a corrupt detective/killer. When you see the oxymoronic size of the plan, and how he doesn't even know how to do the math, you know you're entering the world of the Coen Brothers sans the Coen Brothers.
Friedkin, a successful filmmaker who has proven his worth decades ago, doesn't need to compromise, and so his film dares to show most of the images and ideas that ignite the red light for the Censorship. But, besides the controversy of nudity and depravity, Killer Joe's most shocking element is its content, beginning with a lack of "good" characters, which puts it in the same universe of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MAN.
The film begins when Chris knocks at the door of his trailer and his step mother opens with no pants, panties or sense of decency. Chris, as we know is a selfish guy with no remorse. His father, a slow minded man. You might, for a moment, think that "Dottie", the younger girl, is the only character saved from this group of savages. Well, my only comment to this is: Don't rush. When Detective Joe sits with her for dinner, admiring the tuna casserole, she immediately asks "how are you going to kill mama?" to what he can only answer: "that's not an appropriate dinner conversation, Dottie".
For a moment, you think that Joe's predicament is the moral center of the film. Well, if you take into consideration that he only accepts this job because we wants to "buy" Dottie for his own pleasure, then we are again on Coen's territory. Somewhere between BLOOD SIMPLE and FARGO.
KILLER JOE keeps its claustrophobic feeling, with most of the action happening in a trailer, which enhances the idea of a life lived in a prison, and the characters are so closely linked together you'd think this might be a trailer-trash version of an Agatha Christie story. No character seems to have any hope for the future (except paying Chris's debt and collecting money)
Of all the actors, I was impressed mostly by Gina Gershon and Mathew McConaughey. They really catch the spirit of these people you don't want to run into. There's no glamour nor any sign of intelligence in Gershon's character, and the fact that she is happy to live a life in a trailer, having secret lovers on her spare time and eating fried chicken on the weekends speaks volumes of a burnt out existence. McConaughey, on the other hand has the power given to him as a detective, becoming the only character with some reasonable thoughts. The problem is, he takes them into their own destruction. The rest of the cast does a good job but every now and then you can see the stitches.
In the spirit of three, I suppose Friedkin must be planning another stage play of trashy Americana so that he can build a Trilogy and sell the package all over the world.
And yes, beware of that fried chicken scene. It is raunchy and somehow insulting, which is precisely the idea of this whole film created for the viewers who enjoy Reality TV shows like "Hoarders". And, in case you haven't noticed, this whole experience confirms Friedkin as a fierce and daring filmmaker.