FILM: KILLER JOE

I think I have mentioned before that I once made an ex-girlfriend of mine turn off The Killer Inside Me. It may seem overly squeamish to some, or overly touchy, and I do appear to be in a minority with this, but I have absolutely no desire to watch a woman being beaten to death. I grew up around that stuff; I don’t want to see it re-enacted for my entertainment. I get nothing out of it; I worry about the people who do. Genuinely, I do. I once had a discussion with a friend of mine about why he watches so many torture porn movies [by which I mean things like Hostel, The Human Centipede etc]. I said to him that what he is seeing must involve some level of enjoyment or pleasure, and he denied that. Yet, it is obvious to me. If someone voluntarily holds their hand over a hot stove one would have to assume that they are enjoying the experience [or that they are mad], because if they were not enjoying it they would remove their hand. Likewise, there must be some accompanying pleasure for my friend when watching brutal, violent films, otherwise he would turn them off.

Anyway, bearing in mind that there is no pleasure involved for me in all that [and I am not, as far as I am aware, mad], it was perhaps a silly idea to put on William Friedkin’s Killer Joe. I was aware, after having glanced at a few reviews, that the film is meant to be violent and grim, that it involved a redneck [I hate that term, but, with the characterisation being especially unsubtle, it is appropriate] family who arrange for a hitman to take out their mother, and being unable to pay him use the young daughter/sister as collateral; and I was also aware that there was one scene in particular that ‘shocked’ critics and audiences, so I ought to have known better. The thing is, I love the Southern American accent; I could listen to it for hours. I am, then, drawn to anything that is set, like Killer Joe is, in Texas. I also, at least partly for the accent, have some kind of weird borderline homoerotic crush on Matthew McConaughey, the star of the film. So, basically, I could not resist.

And I didn’t entirely regret my decision. McConaughey is, as he always seems to be when I catch him in something, brilliant; again, maybe it is just the accent, but I find him, and found him here, enthrallingly charismatic. He brings a kind of evil, yet irresistible charm to Joe that means that the film, despite its many, serious flaws, is [almost] always watchable. It is occasionally funny too; laugh out loud funny, in fact. There is one scene, which was my favourite, where Joe is conversing for the first time with Dotty, the young girl who he claims as payment for his services. Dotty asks him about his job as a detective and, I think, the worst thing he has seen. Joe then tells her a story about a man who, to get back at his partner, set his genitals on fire. Was he ok? Dotty asks; and Joe replies, in a wonderfully deadpan manner, No Dotty, he set his genitals on fire. I chuckled for a good thirty seconds over that.

As well as good casting, and some noteworthy performances [Gina Gershon does the best with what she was given and Juno Temple is, miraculously, kooky without being overly irritating], the direction is smart too. I’m a big, uh, fan of The Exorcist and one of the reasons for that is Friedkin’s inventiveness as a director, and he brings that same quality to parts of Killer Joe.   I thought some of scenes were particularly eye-catching, especially the moment that Chris comes face to, er, bush with his naked-from-the-waist-down stepmother. Then, as Chris enters the house, she turns around and there are bruises on her arse. I thought that whole scene, without having to vocalise it, communicated more about the nature of the family than anything related in the plot.

Unfortunately, one of the principle problems with Killer Joe is that the rest of the film lacks that kind of subtlety, particularly in regards to the central family. I am not American, I am not from Texas, and yet I find the insistence on portraying Texans et al as no-good rednecks tiresome, predictable, and borderline offensive. Killer Joe doesn’t miss a trick; there’s pretty much the full set: the dumb, permanently beer-swilling father, the hoodlum brother, the simple-minded sister and the slutty mother-in-law who wears too much make-up. Indeed, I watched the film all the time expecting, waiting for, one of either the father or brother to show an inappropriate interest in Dotty. That doesn’t happen, but incest is about the only hick stereotype the writer[s] failed to conjure up. Maybe it is just me, but I find it hard to appreciate a film whose plot I could have devised and script I could have written myself in about twenty minutes while simultaneously picking my toenails.

The lazy characterisation of the family isn’t the only issue either; as the film progresses the flaws begin to mount up. For example, the brother readily agrees to Dotty being used as a retainer by Joe when the idea is broached. Yet, later in the film we are meant to buy that he loves his sister so much that he can’t bear to allow the situation to continue. So, like, what? Are a couple of fucks ok, but long term it’s a big no-no? What kind of ethics are those? It just made no sense. The twist, the double-cross, is thoroughly meh too. It’s as though the mental energies of all involved in the script went into the retainer idea [and it’s a good idea, at least] and everything else was tossed off with a shrug and a yawn.

And so I come to the biggest concern. No review of this film could fail to mention the fried chicken scene. It is so odd and so disturbing that I decided to actually post the scene itself, so that if you haven’t seen it you can make up your own mind. Here it is:

Now, this scene is, as far as I am concerned, pornography and that has no place in conventional cinemas. Of course, it’s a drumstick and not a cock, but that doesn’t mean that it cannot be pornography. A quick google search threw up this definition:

printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.

I would certainly argue that a woman simulating oral sex while sucking on a drumstick is sexual activity, and that the intention was to get people off. I absolutely believe that. There is no other worthwhile explanation. Oh look, I am sure some would claim that it is meant to be funny or whatever, but I don’t buy that. A woman being abused is not funny. Ever. Fuck that shit. Hang your head if that is your take on it. I also do not accept that it is meant to say something about Joe’s character, as though the audience has somehow managed to arrive at the conclusion of the film not knowing that he is a weird, violent, sadistic bastard. No, the only reason that the scene is in the film is to arouse you. Killer Joe, rightly or wrongly, thinks you’re the kind of person who might get off on this stuff.

But even if that was not the case, even if you could convince me that the scene has some other purpose, that would not make it ok. Not for me, not by a long shot. It would still be an excruciatingly long and drawn-out portrayal of sexual humiliation. I’m of the opinion that something like that is never justified, not in any film and not for any reason.

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