Friday, November 16, 2012
Where's the Morality in Liking a Film Like Killer Joe?
Killer Joe (2011) / US / Out on DVD now in NZ - Dec. 21st in US / Directed by William Friedkin / Written by Tracy Letts, adapted from his play of the same name / Starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon / 98 mins
Many times I've said "oh, I like this (insert weird arthouse movie that is probably rated R18 and has a whole lot of sex and drugs and violence)". I'll get a funny look, and the person I'm talking to will reply, "why do you like that movie?" with a tone of concern. I'll scramble for words as I wonder how in hell I'm going to explain to them why I like the movie without making myself sound perverted or sadistic or whatever. I'm only a 17 year old girl, so this is quite a hard task.
Then again, everyone around my age is supposed to love sadistic horror movies. So I really am not so perverted and sadistic for liking the movies I like.
Killer Joe poses quite a difficult challenge. Today, I had to tell one of my friends why I can no longer eat KFC chicken (ironically, I had some a few hours before I saw the movie) - which obviously meant explaining the infamous scene towards the end. I just trailed off when I tried to justify why it was that I loved this movie, because it is a losing battle. Killer Joe is as sick as you feel if you eat a whole 20 piece bucket of KFC chicken in one sitting - after you've seen that infamous scene. It is as insane as Michael Bay making an independent character study, infused with arthouse technicalities and wins the Palme D'Or at Cannes. It is all out as someone blinded by how much alcohol they've consumed, so all of their morals have left their body with the last time they spewed on the freshly mown grass. And you know what? It is the most fun you can have watching a movie through your fingers.
The premise is quite simple: Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is a drug dealer who winds up a whole lot of debt, and if he doesn't repay it, he will be dead meat. He finds out that his mother has $50,000 worth of life insurance set out for her daughter Dottie (Juno Temple). So if Chris can kill his mother, he'll be sorted. In order to carry out the deed, he hires Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), who wants his money upfront. Chris can't give him the money, so he offers Dottie as a retainer until the insurance money comes through.
What is most unsettling about this movie is that it was once a stage play - starring Michael Shannon, no less. I don't know how you could show half of the stuff that goes on in this movie on stage. Or how you could show any of this stuff on film, for that matter. This is a movie that was branded with the burning NC-17 sticker, and one that chooses to wear that sticker with flashing lights on. The movie really doesn't shy away from anything, but that doesn't mean that it is one of those silly horror movies that mistake this kind of courage for finding new ways to torture people.
This is a movie that introduces a female character by showing her from the waist down - wearing nothing. This is a movie based on the premise of a family agreeing to kill a mother for money. And that mother tried to kill her own daughter. This is a movie which features a man ordering around a much younger girl. It is endlessly misogynistic, sadistic and masochistic. I could campaign about how poorly women are treated in this film, how morally wrong it is, how realistically violent it is. But then again, it isn't the kind of movie that hopes to inspire people, or get a gold star at the end of the day for showing all the good and (non-existent) equal sides of humanity. It is a movie that should be loved for the fact that it isn't what anyone else wants it to be - certainly not what the MPAA wanted it to be.
That's not to say that this movie is an all out violent bonanza, though. It is a movie that knows where it is going, and is aware of what it is saying, and not just grating peoples cheese for the sake of it. There are lengthy spurts of dialogue, which help highlight the dark comic tones. The scenes of extreme violence are very few and far between (but everyone is likely to remember the finale, which is an explosion of violence like no other), but your blood will always be curdling from what's being said. That's kind of offset by the beautiful cinematography, which gives the film a surprisingly polished touch, considering William Friedkin (who we all know for directing The Exorcist) directs this film with 70s B-movie kitsch. The style of the movie is pretty awesome, which brazenly glosses over the unsettling atmosphere that makes the movie unforgettable.
Possibly the best things about this movie are the performances. Everyone is on stellar form. Emile Hirsch is probably the weakest of the ensemble, but he still gives a marvellous performance as Chris, who definitely isn't the smartest Smartie in the lolly mix. Thomas Haden Church was the one I enjoyed the most, as he play Chris' even dumber Smartie father Ansel. Everything he says manages to be extremely hilarious, even in the movie's finale. Gina Gershon brings surprising depth to her trashy character after being introduced in such a...free...way - which is ironic, because later we find out that she wears the pants in her marriage to Ansel. Gershon is saddled with most of the film's most brutal scenes, which takes a hell of a lot of courage. Juno Temple really impressed me as Dottie, especially as her character was so interesting. Even though she's revealed to be 20 years old, she still acts with a childish veil over her. She's thrown around like a piece of meat most of the time, but she really does have a heart, which is something that most people would skip out on when writing a character like this.
However, by far the most impressive thing about this film - and the biggest reason why I'm giving it such a high rating - is Matthew McConaughey's performance. I can't say I've ever really been a fan of the guy, seeing him mostly as that guy who likes to air his top half in Kate Hudson-level romantic comedies. Of late, he's been under-going this huge career transformation, beginning with his stellar turn in law drama The Lincoln Lawyer. This will perhaps be the biggest transformation he gets. As Killer Joe, he is cold, calculated, and creepy. The scene in which he makes his move on Dottie unsettled me like no other, as I never thought that McConaughey was capable of holding firm throughout something so horrible. And then there's that finale, which proves just how fearless he was in this role. From now on, I'll be watching McConaughey as he continues on this version 2.0. Even if I'll never be able to see him, or KFC chicken, in the same light.
I'm not bringing up my age as an "I'm so special la la la" thing, but this is a movie that a 17 year old girl really isn't supposed to like. Hell, I don't know if it is a movie that anyone is supposed to like. But it is a damn good movie, somehow, and one that should be cherished for its courage. Because it does things that not all movies have the gall to do. All with some KFC chicken.
What I got: