Based on the book of the same name by Boston Teran, God is a Bullet may be the feel-bad movie of the year. The film, written and directed by Nick Cassavetes (Alpha Dog, John Q), has especially gnarly gore sequences, coupled with explicit sexuality/violence—think: a modern, less horror-centric The Last House on the Left or Death Sentence. Exploitation flicks of yesteryear would be particularly thrilled to count God is a Bullet among their ranks. Make no mistake: this is one mean, nasty piece of work. Despite pulpy dialogue and a nearly three-hour runtime that will test the patience of more squeamish audience members, Cassavetes’ latest thrills and mesmerizes in equal measure.
Detective Bob Highwater (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones, Gods of Egypt) has been doing the best he can to stay connected to his daughter, Sara (Lindsay Hanzl, Feud, The Fighter). In the first of many difficult-to-stomach sequences, just minutes after Bob drives off for the night, leaving Sara with Bob’s ex-wife and stepfather, all hell breaks loose. A sadistic Satan-worshipping cult takes over the home. One violent rape and brutal torture session later, Bob enters the next day to find both parents murdered; Sara has been kidnapped, with few clues as to her whereabouts.
The papers claim the town of Mint has seen the “worst massacre since Manson.” A 14-year-old snatched in a small Christian community is enough to make big headlines. Bob begins his search for answers when he comes upon ex-cult-member and face-tattooed reformed junkie, Case Hardin (Maika Monroe, It Follows, Villains). Traumatized beyond repair, Case very nearly passes on trying to find Sara altogether. If she has any hope of pulling out an innocent girl from the same awful life she faced, Case decides the torment of reliving her situation will be worth it.
With Case in tow, Bob’s journey turns into something of a twisted road trip movie. Each stop on the crazy train gets the duo closer to finding Sara, and deeper into losing their own humanity. It seems they will have to embody their enemy in order to stand a chance of survival. Bob barely thinks twice before getting a giant spider face tattoo, the better to blend in with cult hopefuls. Bob’s hunger for revenge commingles with his desperation to rescue Sara. Unexpected chemistry between Monroe and Coster-Waldau make the film’s harsher moments and murky morals more palatable than anticipated. Shotgun blasts explode limbs, the ugliness of physical assault is choreographed in a way making each blow feel impactful, and sealing wounds shut with crude staples leaves their own crunchy impact. Ultimately though, one man’s determination to save his daughter, however out of reach the rescue may seem, makes God is a Bullet a relatable, if difficult, cinematic viewing.
Thankfully, the cult itself never becomes humanized or seen in a positive light. Memorable performances from the cult members include a manic Karl Glusman (Love, Nocturnal Animals), intimidating Ethan Suplee (Remember the Titans, Mallrats), psychotic Garret Wareing (Manifest, Independence Day: Resurgence), and skeptical Jonathan Tucker (2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Kingdom). January Jones (Mad Men, The Last Man on Earth) and Jamie Foxx (Baby Driver, Django Unchained) emerge in smaller roles that feel underutilized while somehow bolstering the talents of the two actors in their element.
How far would one go to save those closest to them? This is a question God is a Bullet constantly asks, always in conversation with itself to one extreme or another. Many a film poses this very same question, specifically those that fall in the horror/thriller genre—few, if any, are willing to sink deep into the grimy depths explored within. Lines blur between good and evil. The book upon which this is based released in 1999, leading to some obviously dated elements. Yet, God is a Bullet feels just as relevant now as it was over two decades ago.
Cross over into the nihilistic world of God is a Bullet, now in theaters and streaming on Video on Demand.