Killer Joe comes to UK Region Free Blu-ray with a very impressive 1080p video presentation in the movie’s original – and director’s preferred – theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. Shot in HD, the image is near-perfect for almost the entire runtime, with only a few daytime shots where edges diffuse a little in the light, and where the contrast doesn’t appear to quite be right. Still, they are pernickety quibbles in what is, for the most part, a very good looking presentation.
Detail is excellent throughout allowing us to truly get up close and personal with these regularly vile characters; to see the lines on their faces, the clammy sweat beading up on their brows, their eyes showcase that bloodshot look around the edge, and their hair to take on a mottled, greasy look. Objects are also paid close attention to, from bloody weapons to fried chicken. The settings get similar fine observation; most commonly the seedy trailer-park mainstay, although we do get some exterior shots of rail tracks, deserted buildings and dangerous back-alleys.
The colour scheme is well represented, offering up a suitably unhealthy look to several of the skin tones, although always realistic in the way that it depicts them, whilst balancing out the more vivid, rich clothing, set and background colours. It may not be a bright palette, but it’s a deep one, with strong black levels and not even a hint of noise. Aside from the aforementioned niggles it’s a largely perfect video presentation – arguably too perfect in some respects because it lacks that filmic veneer which would help it escape its HD-TV-series look, but that’s not something which you can mark the impressive, reference quality video presentation down for.
On the aural front the accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does an equally good job of rendering the brooding soundtrack and, even though the material does not offer anything typically boisterous in terms of big, loud action, it arguably still achieves that aura of total surround dominance required to earn it a reference mark. Dialogue is keenly presented across the frontal array, with the eponymous character’s monologue-like ramblings captured clearly and coherently throughout. Effects are mostly ambient and observational, allowing the teeming-with-life – and death – trailer park environment to reach out and suck you in, creating a tangible, ominous, brooding atmosphere of relentless tension and almost no relief. There are a couple of penetrating gunshots and one realistic (i.e. non-Hollywood) explosion which batters at you, but these are just exceptionally loud moments in what is already quite an effectively punishing, at times overwhelming, soundtrack, enriched no end by a score that helps heighten the tension and turn the thumb-screws even more.
Disappointingly, the UK release – whilst it sports the original, uncut, NC-17 equivalent version of the film – comes with none of the extras that adorn the US disc, like Friedkin’s Commentary, the Documentary and the Q&A, instead here we just get a bunch of cast and crew interviews which don’t go any distance towards making up for the lack of the Stateside features.
Controversy aside, Killer Joe has more going for it than just the scene that earned it the dreaded – but publicity-fuelling – NC-17 rating. Perhaps you shouldn’t expect a William Friedkin classic – it’s been a quarter of a Century since this ageing filmmaker has offered us anything approaching the likes of The Exorcist, The French Connection or To Live and Die in LA, and here we get little more than hints of the auteur’s genius – but at least it offers a masterful, memorable quintet of central performances to bring the dark and twisted murder-down-south story to life.
On Region B-locked UK Blu-ray, whilst we get the uncut original director’s cut – the equivalent to the US NC-17 – together with excellent video and audio presentations, there are next to know significant extras, having largely lost all the potentially interesting supplemental features that adorn the December Region A-locked Stateside release. If you’re a fan – and you’re not limited by region-locking restrictions – then it might be worth considering whether the UK version is good enough for you; newcomers, intrigued by either the great performances and/or the chicken controversy, should definitely consider a rental first as this could easily fall into that watch-once category that so very many extreme films slip into. It’s certainly worth watching though, for the performances alone.
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