Annie (Tabetha Ray) and Sly (Thomas Daniel) are out to save the world, one soul at a time. Their form of Christian salvation includes cold-blooded murder, however, and after ditching their car to keep the cops off their trail, the couple find themselves in the home of David (Terry Sasaki). David’s a little odd himself, and despite being the couple’s newest hostage, he also becomes friendly with the duo. Of course, there’s more going on than meets the eye for each individual, and each of their hidden and not-so-hidden agendas will be revealed.
John Reign’s Bullets for Jesus has all the charm of a grindhouse film with a small smattering of mystery thrown in for good measure. Which is to say that the imagery is often rough around the edges, the acting isn’t always the best (Thomas Daniel’s accent, for example, seems to come and go sometimes) and the idea of a Christianity-fueled Natural Born Killers-esque murdering couple is far more interesting in theory than in practice. At the same time, though, it all works together as it is.
Sure, the pacing of the film slows up once the couple encounter David, but it still maintains some suspense. They could’ve just murdered him and been on their way, of course, but it is believable enough that they don’t. They hold themselves as self-righteous, but they’re hardly perfect.
For one, Sly is a violent male chauvinist and drunk, seemingly drawn to fundamental Christianity more for the idea that he should be served rather than doing the serving. If he doesn’t always make a logical decision, even for a killer, it’s not that surprising. Couple that with Annie, who either by design or by mistake, is tripping the two up, and it’s not like you have two criminal masterminds, working perfectly together, on your hands.
Where the film succeeds is that it knows what it is, and embraces that low budget, lo-fi aesthetic without trying to put on nostalgic affectations. If it looks like a B-movie, or grindhouse-friendly cinema, it’s because the movie itself is just that. It’s not trying to be something it’s not for effect, it is precisely what it is. For better or worse.
In the end, I think Bullets for Jesus is going to be an acquired taste. I think there’s enough mystery in it to keep you engaged throughout, and the film smartly doesn’t devolve into torture porn, given how easy a decision that would’ve been. The filmmakers went a more interesting route, layering a narrative with more than just the potential surface insanity. It doesn’t always hit, but it does more often than it misses.
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