God Is a Bullet

God Is a Bullet is a reprehensible film that takes great pleasure in showing scene after scene of women being brutally beaten or killed. It opens with a vicious rape and murder. Later, several female characters are smacked, punched, kicked, and shot in graphic detail. One loses teeth during a beating. Another woman is repeatedly shot in the face. We see blood spurting as her facial features are blown off. Male characters get it too – more on that in a minute – but the treatment of women here is appalling. I felt like I needed a shower after watching this lurid, unappealing melodrama.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau gives a blander-than-bland performance as small-town cop Bob Hightower. His wife is the person raped by a Satanic cult in the beginning. His teenage daughter is abducted in the process, then forced into prostitution. Bob is approached by Case Hardin (Maika Monroe), a former member of that cult. She claims that she can help him get close to its leader Cyrus (Karl Glusman) and save his child. To do that, though, he'll have to go deep undercover, as the cult is ruthlessly dangerous, certainly able to smell a cop a mile away. She takes him to see a guy called “The Ferryman” (Jamie Foxx) who covers him in tattoos so he’ll look the part.

The story doesn’t make a lot of sense after this set-up. Bob and Case drive to a non-descript town, where they start hanging around in bars. Despite encounters with other cult members, it isn’t clear how exactly they’re getting near Cyrus. Having a better sense of what their plan is seems like a storytelling no-brainer. Writer/director Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook) leaves the matter hazy. Also confusing is a worthless subplot involving Bob’s colleague John Lee (Paul Johansson) and the wife (January Jones) he repeatedly calls the c-word. Of course, he also beats the hell out of her, because abuse is the order of the day in this picture.

God Is a Bullet suffers from a host of flaws that limit its appeal. Bob oddly doesn’t appear all that upset about his wife’s murder, for starters. He and Case have no chemistry together, which makes the insinuation that they bond by the end of their adventure unconvincing. The Ferryman is underdeveloped as a character yet gets a fair amount of screen time to do very little. Introducing the subject of child prostitution as a cheap plot point is beyond tasteless, especially when Gabi (Chloe Guy) is present in the story solely to be victimized.

With those glaring issues, the nasty violence stands out even more. Cassavetes lingers on the cruelty of it. Bodies are ripped apart by a machine gun during the finale. A bad guy has a hunting knife repeatedly jammed up his butt. Stuff like that. I’m no prude. Extreme violence can be effective onscreen. Movies like Sisu and Terrifier 2 have gone the same route. The difference is that the tones of those films clue the audience in that there’s an element of fantasy at play. The gore is so over-the-top that, although realistic, it doesn’t disturb on a deep psychological level.

God Is a Bullet, on the other hand, revels in its own self-serious mean-spirited nature, practically daring you to keep your eyes on the screen. Perhaps the violence would feel warranted if the story was stronger, or if the screenplay had insight into Satanic cults. Without those factors, the result is that when the end credits begin to roll, you feel like you’ve been kicked in the groin non-stop for two-and-a-half hours.

Maika Monroe and Karl Glusman (who starred together in the far superior Watcher) do their best with weak material, and the movie is well-photographed, creating an atmosphere of danger. Otherwise, I can’t understand why so many talented, prominent people would want to make something this empty, unpleasant, and vile.

out of four

God Is a Bullet is unrated, but contains graphic brutal violence including rape, pervasive language, and drug content. The running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes.