In selecting this as their opening film for Grimmfest 2016, the festival’s organisers should be applauded in having not taken the obvious route with this genre-twisting tale of revenge and absolution. Let Me Make You a Martyr could hardly be described as a horror, and to further subvert the expectations of the weekend’s undoubtedly fervent flock of gorehounds, it’s pretty much bereft of any real gore and bloodshed, too. It’s just a shame then, that the film itself doesn’t quite compliment or provide a payoff to this crafty piece of counter programming.

Told as a series of fractured flashbacks while a disheveled loner named Drew Glass (Niko Nicotera) is cuffed in custody, he recounts the story of him returning to his old stomping ground after a long absence. Glass is intent on hooking up with his adopted sister June (Sam Quartin) and dispatching their backwater criminal father Larry (Mark Boone Junior). It isn’t going to be an easy task however, as June has a spiraling heroin problem and has been bequeathed a young child she inadvertently saves from the nefarious clutches of her local dealer. Larry is also wise to his children’s plans and ventures out into the wilds in order to procure the services of a stoic, remorseless hitman named Mr. Pope (Marilyn Manson).

From the get-go, directors Corey Asraf and John Swab create a downbeat and oppressive atmosphere, with an ever-present feeling of dread loitering around the edges of their tale. Shot on location in Oklahoma, the duo also find a broken down malaise and decay not dissimilar to the haunted rural Ozarks as seen in Winter’s Bone. Performances are across the board impressive, with the actors rising to the challenge that the verbose and weighty script throws at them. The scrawny, ferret-like Nicotera makes a big impact (as does his Sons of Anarchy colleague, Boone Junior) but it’s Manson who is the real surprise here – think a creepy hick variant on No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh. His presence elevates the film as opposed to distracting from it.

While all these attributes have the makings of a solid dramatic offering, the narrative often lets the film down, trundling along at a lethargic and solemn pace, with little levity. Characters disappear for long stretches, some are introduced before going nowhere. Even as the metaphysical angle begins to conspicuously creep in, bringing with it a little more cohesion, it never manages to tie the loose threads together in a wholly satisfying way.

Ultimately, Let Me Make You a Martyr makes for a frustrating viewing experience. Asraf and Swab’s aims are admirable – they’re reaching for a brooding and reflective take on the Southern Gothic subgenre. Despite the committed performances and strong sense of place they’re able to muster, the film unfortunately falls somewhat short of this.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Let Me Make You a Martyr
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Mild-mannered civilian by day, passionate cinephile and dedicated blogger at night, my obsession began with seeing the image of Luke staring wistfully at the two stars of Tatooine, and 30-plus years later, that love have never wavered.