As much as every work of art deserves to be seen, there are just some of those films that just get way too dark and disturbing for any sane person to sit through. Look at the works of Gaspar Noe for example. The man is clearly one of the most talented directors currently working, but Irreversible and (at times) Enter the Void just get way too disturbing (and unnecessarily so). There hasn’t been one of those types of films in American cinema recently. However, William Friedkin’s Killer Joe gets really close. While definitely uncomfortable, Killer Joe is an interesting portrayal of a family on the brink.
Killer Joe follows Chris (Emile Hirsch), a shady kid who has gotten into trouble with the wrong people, as he concocts a plan to kill his mother in order to get the insurance pay from her death. In order to do so, however, he hires a contract killer, the eponymous Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey). The film is directed by William Friedkin and written by Tracy Letts who also wrote the play the film is based on.
William Friedkin does a fantastic job of straddling the line between uncomfortable darkness and disturbing bleakness. There are many points where in lesser hands this film could have been unwatchable, but with Friedkin in command, this film takes a script with many great character moments and makes it visually interesting. This is an extremely gritty film filled with characters that make terrible and unflattering decisions, but Friedkin and Letts are able to find moments where you actually feel for these characters.
The real highlight of this film is the cast though as almost everyone goes to insane physical lengths with their performances. Emile Hirsch was stunning in Into the Wild but it seems his career has regressed quickly in the years since that performance. This is easily his best performance since then. An almost irredeemable punk becomes a sympathetic loser in the hands of Hirsch. Matthew McConaughey gives an unusually charismatic performance (and I for once am able to see why everyone is saying this is a banner year for him). Thomas Haden Church gets some nice moments to chew on even if he is the least noteworthy of the cast while Gina Gershon goes so far with the physicality of her role that you have to admire the ridiculousness of it. The highlight of the film though is Juno Temple, who is perfectly casted as a socially awkward teen.
Disturbing and chilling Killer Joe gets almost too uncomfortable too stomach, but is saved by some solid directing from William Friedkin and a game cast.