Let me Make You a Martyr (written and directed by Corey Asraf and John Swab) is a very desolate, very bleak, but ultimately very rewarding film.
The movie’s plot, such as it is, concerns two adopted siblings, June and Drew Glass, who are in love with each other and determined to kill their abusive crime lord father before leaving their small midwestern town forever. But plot hardly matters in this movie.
Let me Make You a Martyr is very stylistically aware of itself. It kind of creates a new genre: hipster-desolation-existentialist-noir. It’s set in a world of harsh poverty and grit, but we’re not dealing with realism here. To wit: the ornate, poetic dialogue. Nobody actually talks like this, but of course the filmmakers know this. Let me Make You a Martyr is otherworldly while rooting itself in the sad, dark reality of crime, addiction, and rural poverty. This film comes very close to being a masterpiece.
The movie’s color palette includes some of the most nauseating yellows I’ve ever seen. Which makes sense. Everything, every small detail, has a clear purpose. This is, after all, a very sick town, and we’re dealing with very sick people. Everything’s sad and desperate, incredibly bleak. Hell, even the roller skating rink is run-down and depressing. Despite all this, the movie never descends into nihilism. You have to give it a chance, stick it out until the end, but soon a hopeful message will emerge.
Infamous shock-rocker Marilyn Manson plays Pope, a hitman with an existentially dark bent. He’s the highest profile actor in the movie, but he doesn’t have a lot of screen time. Yet, his character, kind of the human embodiment of Death, is present in every scene. Manson has actually proven himself to be quite the versatile actor over the years, and this is probably his best work to date. Manson gives us a remarkably restrained performance, and it’s absolutely chilling.
Mark Boone, who you might recognize as the biker Junior from Sons of Anarchy, gives us a disturbing, haunting, yet somehow almost charming performance as Larry Glass, the brutal gangster patriarch of the family. Really, though, the acting is pretty much flawless throughout. Sam Quartin is absolutely mesmerizing as heroin addict June Glass, who will go to any length to support her addiction. Still, she is definitely the moral center of the piece. Niko Nicotera, who plays Drew Glass, more or less the main character, gives a quiet, contemplative performance that makes us wonder if it’s possible for the unredeemable to be redeemed.
Let me Make You a Martyr is a leisurely-paced collection of small moments. We’re given time to get to know the bleak lives of these fascinating characters. These people do terrible things to themselves and to each other, but, amazingly, there’s no character that’s portrayed as incapable of redemption. Even, Pope, the cold-eyed assassin, says he charges “double for family.” Indeed.
This movie says a lot about survival at any cost. It also has a lot to say about hope, and even innocence, during the bleakest of times. Ultimately, it’s a movie about people who are looking for God amongst the human wreckage. Let me Make You a Martyr is a rough movie experience, but ultimately it’s quite rewarding, even uplifting. You just have to make it to the end.
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