Patrick Jensen’s review published on Letterboxd:
After watching this, I'm kind of glad to say that there is an American equivalent to Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth. It should actually be the other way around, since the play Killer Joe was written by Tracy Letts in 1993. With that said, the presence of Dogtooth did admittedly have an effect on my viewing of William Friedkin's most recent feature-length film.
What I liked the most about this film was its story and its characters. On a surface level, all the involved characters could be written off as stereotypical constructs, who only serve the purpose of moving the plot forward. But, as the film progresses, they slowly and surely feel more human. Heck, the film basically turns into a distorted Norman Rockwell painting by the time we reach the thrilling climax. Everything that happens within this film is solely down to the mishaps of the unlikeable twit Chris (Emile Hirsch) and the strict ethical code of Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). Furthermore, the dark comedy shines brightly in moments such as Chris' encounter with his boss, Digger Soames, whose lighthearted demeanor was a great reminder of what makes a good disturbing villain. He was kind of like the goofy, demonic Mayor Wilkins from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Of all the performances I've seen from Matthew McConaughey, this might actually rank as my favorite, as he pulls off a righteous, yet morally ambiguous character as Joe brilliantly and with such conviction, that you can't help but be enticed by his charisma and air of mystery. He's kind of like a more charming version of Michael Shannon's Bobby Andes from Nocturnal Animals. Emile Hirsch should also receive some praise for excelling as the douchy, down-on-his-luck drug dealing misfit of a human being. He's definitely far better here than he was in the last thing I saw him in. Despite how unlikeable his character is, Hirsch makes sure that no moment with him is boring, and I couldn't help but want to see where his character arc would (inevitably) go.
My complaints with this are not many, but they did drag the film down for me. For one, some scenes tried too hard in my opinion to be provocative for the casual viewer. In fact, the infamous chicken leg scene felt, more than anything, unintentionally hilarious to me. Also, despite Thomas Haden Church's fine performance, Ansel's dimwittedness came off as inconsistent to me. At some points, he's capable of taking his own decisions, but in most others, he's too reliant on others' commands to decide for himself. Pick one mindset, you can't have both, goddammit! Also, the female characters didn't have much to do, outside of being objects of desire. At least not until Dottie finally does something out of her own volition during the climax, which did thrill me for a short while. The editing could also be a bit jarring at times, as if it wanted to move the story forward faster than necessary by employing quick cuts and altering my sense of distance. I mean, those biker dudes should have caught up to Chris way faster than the film made it look. Finally, as much as I like the setup for the climax, it does feel somewhat rushed, which makes the film's ending feel underwhelming.
In conclusion, Killer Joe is a great, dark tragicomedy with Southern Gothic overtones I can highly recommend to fans of the first season of True Detective, or the aforementioned Dogtooth or Nocturnal Animals. Watch it primarily for the performances and the gritty story.
P.S. Am I the only one who's happy that the role of Dottie was played by Juno Temple instead of Jennifer Lawrence? This film would, in my opinion, not have worked as well as it did, if Dottie was played by someone who wasn't Juno Temple.