I never wanted to kill
I am not naturally evil
These things I do
Just to make myself more attractive to you
Have I failed?
– Last of the International Playboys, Morrissey
At first glance, Luke 11:17 seems to be a typical story of stardom and hypocrisy. Luke Vincent is a best-selling author and motivational speaker for recovering addicts. Yet after his lectures, he buys heroin, shoots up, and sleeps with loose women. And then kills them. Wait…what?!?!
Maybe it’s not that much of a shock. After all, audiences love a killer. From the Joker to Norman Bates, it’s fun to root for the bad guy. In the last few decades, we’re even warmed to serial killers as protagonists, the most successful examples being the well-coiffed Patrick Bateman of American Psycho and the affable star of Showtime’s current hit, Dexter. Patrick and Dexter may be psychopaths, but they’re high functioning psychopaths. They’ve got regular jobs, homes, and relationships. Well, maybe not so normal relationships.
Luke falls squarely into this category, and the first season of this eight-episode web series plays it pretty much by the numbers, though with impressive flair.
The most remarkable aspect of the series is it’s aesthetic. Madness is fun to see visually illustrated, and the producers of Luke evoke it by creating burn effects on the image and occasionally making it look as if the “film” is skipping off it’s reels (picture the video for Closer and you’ll get the idea). It works well here, and between the cinematography and solidly talented cast, the show frequently looks like something you might see after CSI. Well, if you don’t count the NSFW sex scenes.
Produced by Rooster Films, Luke 11:17 is the brainchild of Ryan V. Cafeo, the show’s creator, executive producer, and leading man. Ryan exhibits a Sam Rockwell-esque charm, which gets you through the first few episodes, when his character appears to just be a smarmy preacher who likes to quote from Bartlett’s.
However, starting around episode three, his portrayal becomes genuinely mesmerizing, as he amps the nervous energy and accents. Luke has difficulty maintaining a public front, leading to a tense scene in a coffee shop where, when a waiter spills a single drop of coffee on his clean white shirt, he nearly looses it completely. Bateman would be proud.
Other highlights of the cast include Bernadette Wilkes as Luke’s deadpan sister, who is as eerily calm as Luke is manic. Their scenes together are some of the creepiest in the series, and their relationship may be inspiration for the show’s title (Luke 11:17 is the “a house divided against itself cannot stand” passage of the Bible).
The weaknesses of this series lie in the details beneath the stylish surface and murderous thrills. Luke’s fame is glossed over – he’s well-known enough to go on book tours and be recognized on the street, yet his press team seems to consist of one woman and her daughter. And why would a public figure who is afraid of being discovered as a murderous criminal voluntarily be seeing a psychiatrist? Details like this make the mechanics of the plot seems like just that – tools to get Luke from one murder to the next.
But these sort of rough-around-the-edges script issues aren’t a deal breaker by any means, and the production is still leagues ahead of most original online dramas. But, what keeps Luke 11:17 from being truly ambitious is it’s lack of originality.
It’s horror without a hook. There’s nothing to make the viewer truly care about Luke and what happens to him.
Characters like Dexter and Bateman are memorable not just because of the atrocities they commit, but because of how they reflect the ugliness of American life. They dare us to ask how men like these, obsessed with status and order, could fit so easily into society.
I thought Luke 11:17 might show us something about how celebrity allows sadism and insanity to pass for ambition, but it seems that Luke’s psychosis is rooted in boring old female abandonment issues. The series is still highly watchable as a mean, nasty thriller (I’m certainly watching the season finale, teased in the video above), but until it finds it’s thematic hook, Luke: 11:17 falls just a few character traits short of earning it’s tagline of a “psychological thriller.”