'Let Me Make You A Martyr' Shows Flashes Of Promise In An Otherwise Aimless Thriller [Review]

If Troy Duffy were to make a Southern gothic crime drama influenced by Quentin Tarantino and David Gordon Green, the results would veer close to “Let Me Make You A Martyr.” The film, making its World Premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival, is the sometimes ambitious, if mostly aimless, directorial debut of Corey Asraf and John Swab, and despite the stunning earthy cinematography by Jeff Melanson and a talented cast, most notably the always great Mark Boone Junior and a surprising turn from none other than Marilyn Manson, it’s a restless, flashy and ultimately unpleasant bore, one that spends more time finding its voice than telling a coherent, engaging story. Never quite striking and/or violent enough to make an impact, and not quite subtle enough to become layered and meaningful, the results are clunky, ham-handed and a little trite, producing a bluegrass modern western-of-sorts that doesn’t quite know what to make of itself beyond the gaze of its inspirations.

In a low-lit interrogation room, low-life Drew Glass (Niko Nicotera) is asked about the events leading up to his conviction. These things usually start with a car ride or a woman, interrogator Charon (Michael Potts) notes. Which one was it this time? Both, evidentially. Returning to his hard-knocked southern hometown after a six-year absence, Drew instantly reunites with his adoptive father Larry Glass (Boone), a local crime boss, and his adopted sister June (Sam Quartin), a goodhearted junkie. Rekindling a love they share together, Drew and June hatch a plan to kill their abusive father and run away together, leaving the sorrowful town they once lived in for good. But word comes back to Larry easily, and he’s not one to be taken down lightly.

Mark Boone Junior and Sam Quartin in Let Me Make You A Martyr (2016)

Larry reconvenes with someone he hasn’t seen in over 20 years: Pope (Manson), a skilled hit man living far out into the woods, hoping he’ll kill his adopted children before they get to him. But such a task isn’t going to come along easily. Family is not something Pope tampers with regularly, but that’s not to say that he isn’t persuaded in the right circumstances. With a target now looming over their own heads, Drew and June are soon entangled in the seediest dwellings of their adoptive father’s most misanthropic world.

Like a Coen Brothers dark farce put in the fryer for far too long, “Let Me Make You A Martyr” lacks the wit, charm and/or vision to pull off such a twisted, soulfully melancholy morality tale. It’s messy when it wants to simply misdirect, and it’s tedious beyond being merely tenuous, particularly in its themes and message. Swab’s frustratingly misshapen screenplay lacks a firm voice of its own, resulting in groan-inducing dialogue like “You can’t fight fate; I tell you, if God’s in this room, he’s one sick fuck,” or multiple moments that all-so-desperately want attention. Much like Duffy’s “The Boondock Saints,” Asraf and Swab spent most of their own debut trying to be cool, instead of finding ways to actually be cool. What results, then, is a film without purpose or confidence, one without the drive to stand amongst its peers or among the movies that clearly influenced these filmmakers.

Let Me Make You A Martyr (2016)While Swab’s writing leaves a good deal to be desired, he and Asraf do, at least, prove themselves talented directors, especially in the right moments. While they don’t quite have the script to inspire or push them, they create more than a handful of fairly gripping low-key moments. However, it’s a little too well-mannered to indulge in any grindhouse cheese, and it’s too dirty and unkempt to be considered anywhere near sophisticated, and so “Let Me Make You A Martyr” isn’t quite able to find its place. It’s a misfit of a film that can’t seem to accept itself as more than the sum of its parts, which only makes it more unruly the more fascinating it becomes.

Thankfully, for Swab and Asraf’s sake, they can rely on their poised cast to help straighten things out. Boone, as mentioned before, is the one that really makes his gruff personality felt, whether he’s on-screen or not, which makes him a viable threat and a lived-in presence. It’s also through Nicotera’s beady-eyed sorrow that you later get invested in his rough-and-tough plight, even if the film’s need to insist upon itself tries to shake off such desires. Likewise, Quartin’s deeply-felt performance often makes up for the depravity of her character, even as her demons come quick to haunt her. And the adorable Gracie Grenier, as the precious and often heartbreakingly innocent Rooney, not only bares a striking resemblance to Carrie Henn in “Aliens” but also carries the same emotional sympathy, despite her entirely mute performance.

Mark Boone Junior in Let Me Make You a Martyr (2016)

But it’s likely Manson’s performance that will leave people talking, whether deservedly or not. And while the musician is far from a seasoned actor, he nevertheless brings an unmistakable presence to the film, one that can only be filled by someone of his stature and legacy. It’s an inquisitive, instinctive performance, as you’d expect from the performer’s often-introverted off-stage personality. It would undoubtedly be a chillier performance if he was given more to work with. The musician is only given roughly four or five scenes, if that, but he’s an unshakable force of reckoning. He doesn’t necessarily make Swab and Asraf’s debut better or worse with his performance, but he does make it more distinct, and that’s more than welcome.

Ultimately, however, “Let Me Make You A Martyr” lets its ‘90s influences always become apparent, but it doesn’t know what to do with them after the fact. It wants to be a raw, brooding, vicious, bold and mature adult drama, but it’s not nearly as smart and edgy as it would suggest. And signs of a more thoughtful feature that are found throughout, only makes it more cumbersome to watch movie, as you see them go unrealized. The promise is there, but Asraf and Swab will have to get out of their own way first. [C]

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