Every festival has at least one movie that contains a shocking scene that critics can’t help but gossip about. (Memory lane: In 2010, Sundancers were traumatized by Jessica Alba’s* head being crushed by Casey Affleck in The Killer Inside Me, while 2009 saw Cannes attendees suffering PTSD after Willem Dafoe’s penile trauma in Antichrist.) And at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the prize winner for Most Hysterical Audience-Baiting Stunt goes to the Matthew McConaughey psycho flick Killer Joe, in which 76-year-old Exorcist director William Friedkin stages a spectacularly demeaning sequence that combines oral sex and fried chicken. What, you want a picture painted? Icky, finger-lickingly offensive spoiler, ahoy!
Like The Killer Inside Me, Killer Joe is a how-much-can-you-take depiction of a deeply disturbed, very violent monster. Scripted by Tracy Letts (and adapted from his Americana horror-show stage play), the film centers around McConaughey’s Joe, a sadistic assassin-detective who blasts into the lives of a trailer-trash family when he’s hired to kill mom for insurance money. He takes a young daughter (Juno Temple) as his sex-slave “retainer,” indulges in a few weeks of disturbing age-inappropriate sex (to say the least), and otherwise menaces and glowers, in between delivering horrific beatdowns. But the scene that’s the most shocking — or degrading, if you consider the film less a comment on misogyny than a misogynist fantasy itself — involves a bucket of fried chicken.
And here, one more time, is the SPOILER ALERT: In the final face-off, Joe confronts Sharla, the double-crossing girlfriend of the family’s father; she’s played by Gina Gershon with awful makeup and skanky outfits. He slams her to the floor and viciously beats her face until blood pours from her nose down into her mouth. Joe picks up the crackly fried chicken leg that she has thoughtfully prepared for him on a napkin, and dangles it in front of his crotch. “Suck it,” McConaughey says. She refuses, so he asks her if she’d prefer he “cut your face off and wear it on my own.” Given this option, she obliges, and performs fellatio on his fried drumstick with her bloodied mouth, while McConaughey moans, absurdly, and delivers an insane monologue. (Why exactly is this not a Nicolas Cage movie?) Then things get really hysterical, but that’s a spoiler for another day.
*This posted has been corrected to show that it was Jessica Alba, not Biel, who was in The Killer Inside Me.