Noirs are at their best when they reveal the darkness hiding beneath a thin veneer of civilisation, with ever-present shadows stretching across the screen. Killer Joe is a grimy neo-noir, but its characters wear their darkness on their sleeves without the façade of civility. Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) discusses the murder of his mother with all the casualness that someone would use to put together a grocery list. It’s Double Indemnity in a trailerpark; the characters here exposed to the harsh Southern sunlight, blemishes revealed from the get-go.
It goes without saying that the matricide plot doesn’t exactly go off without a hitch. The narrative deserves to stand alongside neo-noirs like Memento or Chinatown, a simple plot gradually revealing hidden machinations, each character playing their own angle or being played accordingly. I’ll also happily count Killer Joe among that brilliant handful of films that find the perfect, unpredictable moment to end.
Matthew McConaughey is the standout of an excellent cast as the eponymous Joe, his full-time detective/part-time hitman a coiled viper: all oily charisma and authoritative machismo on the surface, hiding infant vulnerability and brittle psychosis. He’s often uncomfortable to watch, particularly in an already infamous scene involving fried chicken.