REVIEW: Killer Joe

12 09 2012

Some people would say that a movie that makes you feel dirty and disgusting is an effective movie.  That may be true, because William Friedkin’s NC-17 “Killer Joe” made me want to take a shower as soon as I got home from the theater.  But just because the presentation of abhorrent material was equally abhorrent does not make the movie good, or enjoyable.

While I’ve started to reverse my thinking on Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” my original assessment seems to be applicable for Friedkin’s film.  I used such phrases as “the whole was less than the sum of its parts” and “While I can see the art […] I can’t see the clear execution of a vision.”  Other than the movie’s two shocking displays of perverse sexual behavior (which you don’t deserve to have spoiled for you in case you actually decide to watch “Killer Joe”), the film brings little else to the table.

The other hour and a half of the film is just filler to bring about the two discussion-worthy scenes.  I acknowledge that a movie that tries and succeeds to be shocking is an accomplishment.  But being shocking just for the sake of being shocking is nothing to be lauded.

A movie that exists solely to ruffle a few feathers and rattle a few cages doesn’t stick with you after the writhing and squirming in your seat.  The sordidness is ephemeral; it wears off quickly.  And once that feeling is gone, you look to see if it was justified or vindicated by the rest of the film.  Here, it is not.

The Tracy Letts’ screenplay is clunky and feel very stagey and distinctly non-cinematic.  The humor, dark and macabre, is extremely hit or miss; all the laughs come with a heaping side order of guilt.  I will give “Killer Joe” that it has two solid performances: a demonic leading turn from Matthew McConaughey in the year of his career renaissance as a sexually depraved hitman, and a delightful village idiot character played with an appropriate lack of urgency by Thomas Haden Church.  But that’s where my compliments come to a close because this movie isn’t about those things.  It’s about being knowingly repulsive for no other reason because they can be, indulgent art at its worst.  D+





Classics Corner: “The Exorcist”

31 10 2010

I know that the technical cutoff for classic movies is 1968, but I’m making an exception for 1973’s “The Exorcist” seeing as it’s Halloween and I’m still trying to atone for missing this column back in August.  I know I said that I never wanted to see this movie, but given the season, I was a little curious.  And as a movie buff, how could I not see a movie that was for a time the highest-grossing film ever?

I’m not a fan of horror, particularly the Satanic sub-genre.  I have just begun slowly introducing myself to these movies, largely because I feared them so much even into my teenage years.  At first, I discovered I wasn’t really that scared at all.  I thought it was a fluke, so I watched a few more.  Turns out, I’m really not that affected by horror unless something jumps out of nowhere and the volume shoots up.

“The Exorcist” is really no different.  It’s eerie and creepy, particularly Regan’s transformation from a sweet, innocent child to the Devil incarnate, complete with a tattered face and green vomit.  But on a scare level, it really isn’t very frightening.  The movie doesn’t give any indication that anyone we know could become the Devil at a moment’s notice, so what reason do I have to fear?

Perhaps I speak as the product of a dulled, jaded generation.  In my lifetime, horror has two camps: ultra-sadistic blood and guts to the point of excess, or subtle haunting.  There really is no middle ground, yet that is exactly where William Friedkin’s Oscar-nominated horror tale seems to fall.  The demonic child scenes are about as close to horror porn as I imagine the 1970s could produce, and everything else (including the exorcism) seems to be the movie’s subtler side.

I think my biggest issue with the movie was the enormous amount of exposition provided.  We get the characters set up and learn their situations for about an hour.  Usually the tacit contract between filmmakers and moviegoers states that if you give a lot of exposition, the movie needs to vamp up to a climax that much more.  “The Exorcist” doesn’t really build much, and for all we sit back and wait for the action to come, the payoff isn’t all that satisfying.

The movie all leads up to, you guessed it, the exorcism of the demonic child.  The word gets tossed around so much nowadays, and the ritual has certainly lost some of its mystical power with each haphazard exorcism movie thrown into production.  Regan’s exorcism, however, lasts for a disturbingly and unsettlingly long amount of time.  If it doesn’t affect you at first, it will after the ten millionth time the two priests shout out “the power of Christ compels you!”

As a a sort of origin for a lot of horror movies that have frightened audiences for the last 30 years, “The Exorcist” proves to be an interesting watch.  An Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, though, seems a little bit much.  This is a good movie, don’t get me wrong, but just because a horror movie has a plot, good performances, and a few chills doesn’t mean it deserves a shot at Hollywood’s highest honor.  Maybe it’s all the crummy rip-offs that the movie inspired that make feel so nonplussed by the movie, but according to Tim Dirks, “its tale of the devil came at a difficult and disordered time when the world had just experienced the end of the Vietnam War … and at the time of the coverup of the Watergate office break-in.”  Times have changed, and it could be a good sign that I can’t match the devil to any current events.