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With the amount that is written about movies–sometimes even before they are made–it is tough to be blindsided by a motion picture these days. Which is why Killer Joe came as such a big surprise. This is a tidy twisted little tale peopled by characters that mainstream audiences don’t see very often.

The movie may be called Killer Joe but it is actually about the Smith family: Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) the slow-witted paterfamilias, Sharla (Gina Gershon) his two-timing new wife, Chris (Emile Hirsch) his ne’er-do-well son, and Dottie (Juno Temple) his virginal daughter who may or may not have a screw loose. The dysfunction in this family could keep a roomful of psychology grad students very happy.

The titular Joe (Matthew McConaughey) enters their lives when Chris convinces his father to hire a hitman to kill his ex-wife (and Chris and Dottie’s birth mother) for her insurance money. Y’see Chris owes some bad people some big money and they will think nothing of causing him a lot of pain until he pays up. It appears that no one really likes the original Mama Smith–not even Dottie–so they agree she might be more use to her old family dead than she was alive. Joe insists on being paid in advance. Trouble is, the Smiths don’t have twenty-five thousand dollars sitting around. So–and this is only the beginning of where some of this stuff gets really messed up–Joe asks for Dottie as a ‘retainer’.

Yes. Let that sit for a while. And know this: stuff gets a lot uglier before this movie ends.

The performances in this movie are just top notch. Messrs. Hirsch and Church are so convincingly amoral that it becomes difficult to remember that these guys are actually actors. Ms Gershon does motel-room-by-the-hour sexy as well as trailer-trash crazy so well it is annoying that she is not a bigger star in Hollywood.

And the crowning glories of this movie are the performances by Ms. Temple and Mr. McConaughey: he is so cool yet so creepy that one cannot look away while he is on screen. This is the type of performance other actors hope to turn in someday. British-born Juno Temple is so powerful in the role of a wise-beyond-her-innocence, damaged-goods girl that one can almost understand Joe’s obsession with her.

Not often does one watch a movie in which the characters are captured in ways that makes the audience feel what other characters must feel for them. Mr. Friedkin manages to do that repeatedly during Killer Joe‘s 100-odd minute run-time. And as a fan of superbly-made film that was just exciting for me to watch.

Killer Joe is based on the first ever play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts and–especially during the finale–one can see how this was a story originated as something to be told inside closed rooms. It almost feels wrong to say that this was an engrossing movie but though I was very troubled by a lot of what unfolded on screen yet I was impressed by the storytelling.

Final Analysis: This is a movie for fans of dark twisted cinema. If you like deliciously creepy cinema, this may be to your liking. Casual movie watchers can safely stay away.

My Advice: Even if you are planning on watching this movie be warned that humanity doesn’t win many points in this one. People are just awful to each other. And if you are a fan of fried chicken you may want to get your fill before you watch this movie because you might require a long timeout before you are able to look at a chicken drumstick again without recalling this movie.