Samuel Marko’s Every Single Someone opens with a card explaining that the footage was originally commissioned by the Colorado Department of Higher Education for a “documentary on campus lifestyles.”

“The footage was released to the public following the Auraria Campus shootings and the filmmaker’s subsequent arrest,” it promises. Faux-documentary styling isn’t anything new to the world of exploitation filmmaking. It promises a level of gritty reality; when the top comes off, ideally, everything is a little more painful to watch. Marko’s decision to use the approach to tackle young male violence in the form of bored college students is conceptually interesting; the filmmaker has noted that going with the documentary approach also allowed them to rationalize using 16mm film and a verité storytelling approach. Marko has good form, but in function his story just doesn’t work. Every Single Someone is a shallow and frustrating attempt to tell a heavy story about a very real problem.

There’s no reason to couch the story in documentary language because by the end of the story, the documentarians’ presence of the documentarians is relatively immaterial. In Every Single Someone, Lee (Luke Krogmeier) and his girlfriend, Arlis (Megan Elisabeth) break up. Badly. So Lee hires a hitman to murder her. His friends don’t put up much resistance to the idea, and the group is dragged into a violent and terrifying situation beyond its control. Much of the “documentary” footage is of the friends shooting the shit as their world unravels beyond the frame. Violence begets violence, often shot in as unclear a fashion as possible.

Every Single Someone is billed as exploitation, and it’s certainly exploitative regarding its subject matter. Young men committing acts of violence against one another and, in particular, women, is an important topic. The way in which young men are radicalized to do so by their peer groups is underappreciated, and certainly the sense that any man could be potentially violent is an important subject. The way the story unfolds, though, doesn’t feel particularly insightful on an emotional level. Lee, for instance, is never a character we care about … or fear, for that matter. His rationale for having Arlis murdered boils down to him telling his friends, “I never do anything for myself. This is just for me,” as his friends meekly ask him about the moral implications of his decision. It does not feel like a relatable sequence of events.

It’s certainly arguable that acts of violence don’t necessarily follow a clear narrative, that violence can be insidious and awful and without larger reason. Maybe one day someone just snaps. But the reason Every Single Someone doesn’t get a pass for poorly motivating its lead characters is twofold: First, in most cases, large-scale acts of violence are committed by individuals with behaviors that, in hindsight, make their actions not particularly surprising. We don’t really learn enough about Lee to understand him as a character or a person. Two, as a film, Every Single Someone has the burden of properly motivating its characters and making them interesting to watch. “Faux-documentary” doesn’t excuse a film from the burden of telling a story; documentaries, although they rely on realism and truth, are still edited and constructed to tell an engaging story. That simply isn’t the case with Every Single Someone; it’s a maddening descent into madness.

Still, Marko’s filmmaking talent is there. The movie looks good and it sounds good. It’s a shoestring-budget production made by a young filmmaker looking to display his abilities. Not every story is going to work, and not every project is going to produce the footage necessary to tell a coherent story. Marko’s desire to tackle a big questions will hopefully yield better productions in the future. There’s real value in exploring the way violence works within male social groups and how that translates into the way men treat women. Every Single Someone doesn’t succeed in its exploration, but it feels like a good starting point for a director who clearly knows the stories he wants to tell and has the technical skill to eventually tell them.