by Bilge Ebiri
Aeschylus with a bucket of fried chicken, William Friedkin's nasty, noirish film adaptation of Tracy Letts' bizarre Southern Gothic tragicomedy Killer Joe unleashes its cavalcade of NC-17 grotesquerie with a brazen opening salvo. One dark night, ratty, good-for-nothing Chris (Emile Hirsch) comes desperately knocking at his dim-bulb father Anselm's (Thomas Haden Church) door. What he finds is Anselm's wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) sans panties or modesty. "Put some clothes on, for God's sake," he yells. "I didn't know who you were!" she retorts.
Consider this Friedkin and Letts' warning to leave the theater if you're looking for anything resembling subtlety, plausibility or demurral — or for that matter, characters worth caring about. And yet their brakes-off hellride has an elemental force that keeps you riveted, even as you're shaking your head in disbelief, disapproval, or even shame.
The set-up is so grimy you'll need a shower after reading it: Chris is in desperate need of some money because (naturally) a murderous loan shark is after him. He's hatched a not particularly foolproof plan to zotz his biological mom and get her life insurance, which supposedly goes to Dottie (Juno Temple), his virginal, otherworldly teenage sister. To do the deed, they hire a police detective, the titular Joe (Matthew McConaughey), who apparently has a lucrative side business handling this sort of thing. When someone asks whether it's a problem if he ever has to investigate one of his own killings, Joe replies, "It's a convenience."