Paul Lister’s review published on Letterboxd:
Killer Joe is pure trailer trash cinema. It's pulpy, lurid, violent, exploitative, dirty and sweaty. Killer Joe is about deplorable people doing deplorable things, getting mixed up with equally deplorable people. The Smith family live in squalor, they're not the smartest bunch of people or the most likeable. They use and deal drugs and they don't mind killing the estranged mother of the family and exploiting the daughter Dottie to appease psychotic killer's with fetishes for young girls. So it's fair to say it isn't high art and it certainly doesn't feature so many sympathetic characters but it as guiltily enjoyable as a KFC chicken wing, although you probably won't be eating many of those after watching this.
The story is predictable enough, with the family desperately in need of money they make plans to kill the mother of the family who has long since left them, she has a clause in her will and young Dottie is thought to be the recipient of the $50,000. The idea of a plot to kill some one for money isn't exactly new. The Smiths look to employ Killer Joe, a cop who predictably kills people on the side for money. Matthew McConnaughey plays Joe with a sense of brooding and an enigmatic sense of mystery. He is dangerous but he is quietly restrained in the initial contact with the family, although he retains a sense of real authority when making his demands. He also has a worrying penchant for young girls and it is his interest in Dottie that really stokes the fires.
He uses Dottie as a retainer because obviously the Smith's haven't got the money he demands up front. There is a scene where he has supper with Dottie and it's quite uncomfortable and certainly exploitative. The film certainly isn't afraid to bare flesh whether it is Gina Gershon's bush, McConnaughey's buttocks or Juno Temple's everything. The thing is Juno Temple is playing a 12 year old girl, sure the actress herself is not that age but it does make for uncomfortable viewing. Especially when Friedkin keeps his camera fixed on her the whole time she is undressing even though Joe has turned his back.
To me the film feels a little rushed in getting to the climactic scene, in amongst the more shocking moments there is a lot of exposition type stuff explaining how Joe has figured everything out so it doesn't flow as naturally as it could. The scene at the end is pretty horrifying the infamous chicken wing incident is rather questionable as is the full on punch in the face that Gershon gets before she's left on her knees. Nobody said it was going to be easy though and this nasty stuff is actually quite thrilling even if you feel awful for watching it. Seeing Joe get off on it made me feel really dirty, like I need a shower right now it's so deplorable. But at the same time it is absolutely unforgettable and I like it for being so out there.
It's good to see Friedkin find his mojo again, he created three of the best films of the 70's, of all time even but Sorcerer did have a massive negative impact on his career. This film shows that he still has fire in the belly, a penchant for provocation that few would dare to match him in in American film making circles. It may leave you feeling bad about yourself for enjoying the film in the slightest but no doubt that is the intention here. It is also important to note this down as one of the early films in McConaughey's self proclaimed McConaissance. He knew it was a bold move, he was even repulsed by it himself in the first instance but it really paid of for him. The films black humour kind of went over my head a little though to be honest. I think it would like to think it was more blackly humorous than it actually is but at the same time these characters are so fucking stupid there is certainly some humour to be had out of that.
Anyway I'm off to buy a KFC bucket and have a happy family get together. Make of that what you will.