Director: Corey Asraf, John Swab
Writer: John Swab, Corey Asraf
Producer: Corey Asraf, John Swab, Michael Jefferson, Brett Swab, Alan Staab
Stars: Niko Nicotera, Sam Quartin, Mark Boone Junior, Marilyn Manson, Slaine, Gracie Grenier, Rebekah Kennedy, Jake Silbermann, Magen Mattox, Daniel Martin Berkey
To save his addict sister, an outlaw returns home to destroy their adoptive father’s drug operation with a hitman in pursuit.
If a premise involving a brother and sister in love, even if they aren’t blood related, gives you pause, be advised that this is perhaps the least controversial element of Southern-fried sleaze in “Let Me Make You a Martyr.” In this wrong side of the tracks world, corrupt priests fence dope, helping a junkie tie a tourniquet constitutes romance, and finding a duct-taped little girl inside a shed is barely a reason to bat a lash.
It’s been six years since Drew Glass left this Oklahoma hellhole to clean up his veins and straighten out his life. Now he has returned to rescue June, the troubled foster sister he left behind with Larry, their adoptive father and local crime boss who has no qualms about pimping out his daughter for sex. Larry isn’t about to sit idly by while Drew tries burning his drug operation to the ground. So dear old disgusting dad contracts stone-faced hitman Pope to destroy the prodigal son before Drew can exact his revenge.
Staying a step ahead requires Drew to navigate a network of prostitutes, murderers, addicts, and criminals. While Drew finds help in the form of a friend whose wife doesn’t care about the porno filming going on in their back bedroom, June deals with the unexpected custody of a kidnapped girl, and the equally unexpected return of her brother, lover, and potential savior.
“Let Me Make You a Martyr” makes out its top draw to be Marilyn Manson, with Manson’s mug fronting the film’s home video art even though he is arguably a lesser supporting character. A majority of his actions occur offscreen to boot. So while his quietly throaty performance as a cold killer earns interested eyes, Manson’s minority of minutes won’t satisfy anyone expecting a robust star turn to step up.
More sense is made by pointing the film at “Sons of Anarchy” fans. Cursory research couldn’t uncover precise casting connections, but “Let Me Make You a Martyr” features Mark Boone Junior and Niko Nicotera as the father and son, with Manson and Michael Shamus Wiles adding third and fourth corners to the square of SOA alums.
“Let Me Make You a Martyr” is an actor’s movie, and strong portrayals of broken people are indeed the film’s key strength. Co-writing the story and co-directing their first feature, Corey Asraf and John Swab frame character interactions through theatrical conversations fit for a stage play. Their intent aims to put grandiose gravitas behind new millennium noir. But their tactics for achieving this elevated effect involve choppy storytelling and frustratingly ambiguous wordplay.
Swab’s script mistakes obtuseness as a means of fostering mystery. “Let Me Make You a Martyr” crafts itself cryptically, under an assumption that deliberately unspecific dialogue conjures intrigue for a crime drama. Instead, it creates a completely confused narrative. Here is one example of an early exchange between two negligible characters:
“You know I don’t want to be doing this sh*t either.”
“I thought you was gonna talk to him first?”
“I thought about it. What’s the point?”
“What’d Larry say?”
“I’d say we’re doing him a favor. Now that we’re out here, I just think it’s better this way.”
Amidst so many vague terms (him, it, this) alluding to identities, events, and secrets the film clutches tighter than a teenager’s diary, the audience ends up with nearly no information with which to suss out a story. On top of people speaking in roundabout terms, the setup is structured with a “The Usual Suspects” meets “Pulp Fiction” format where Drew recounts his tale in scatterbrained style for an investigating detective. What is this detective investigating? Due to everyone’s unnatural manner of speaking, the cloud over that question doesn’t dissipate until half of the runtime expires.
The flashback frame doesn’t make narrative sense either because scenes are shown from well outside Drew’s purview. “Let Me Make You a Martyr” then ends on a noncommittal note of “what do you think it means?” That can be a fair question to pose when thoughts have been properly provoked. Here however, the filmmakers haven’t come to their own conclusion first. This constructs a Thunderdome where shoulder shrugs fight it out to find a meaning in fiction that isn’t sure if it has one.
Its cast was understandably attracted to the project because of a rich roster of Rob Zombie archetypes allowing actors to explore interpretive spaces on the dark side of dirty deed-doing trailer trash. But these characters are caught in a plot that has no clear direction. As a result, the viewer becomes caught in a conflict of wanting superficial salaciousness to be backed by substance the story simply doesn’t have.
Corey Asraf and John Swab had initial ideas and terrific talent to take “Let Me Make You a Martyr” to creatively challenging places as a thematically dramatic crime thriller. What they lacked was a thoroughly plotted vision to plug everything into. Persuasive performances put only so much gas in the tank. “Let Me Make You a Martyr” runs out of fuel on the road to finding a reason for recommendation as artistic entertainment.
Review Score: 45