Drug dealer Chris (Emile Hirsch) needs money to pay a debt. Realising his mother Adele has a large life insurance policy which will pay out to his sister Dottie (Juno Temple), Chris, his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon) conspire to have Adele killed and collect on the money. Into the frame comes Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a police officer with a sideline in contract killing. He will do the job- for a price. When Chris can't come up with the fee upfront, Joe agrees to a retainer- Dottie...
It's a molasses black comedy-drama which will virtually guarantee you never look at southern fried chicken in quite the same light again.
Performances are strong across the board. Perhaps surprisingly given past form (he didn't get the nickname Mahogany for nothing), Matthew McConaughey gives a (mostly) subtle, reptilian performance as the titular killer, only descending into a raging lunatic at the film's climax in which- to be fair- subtlety flies straight out of the window. Temple is outstanding as Dottie, a seemingly simple-minded girl who may not be as innocent as she first appears. Hirsch is as reliable as ever as Chris whilst Church and Gershon make for an entertaining double-act as a pair of trailer-trash rednecks.
There are a few decent plot twists which keep things interesting as the cast of grotesques cross and double-cross one another on the way to the orgy of violence and bloodshed which marks the film's final twenty minutes. It initially received the dreaded NC-17 rating in America (before surrendering that rating in October 2012 and thus becoming unrated) and an 18 certificate in the UK, and believe me, it's well deserved. There are protracted scenes of bloody violence and a sadistic streak a mile wide. Friedkin has stated "Cutting would not have made it mass appeal... To get an R rating, I would have had to destroy it in order to save it and I wasn't interested in doing that."
Lurid, dark and twisted, this slice of Southern Gothic won't be to everyone's tastes. I enjoyed it for the most part, even if the end does take us into WTF territory. You might need a strong stomach to get through it but there's a few guilty thrills to be had on the way.
Rating: 3 out of 5