An opening scene can weigh on the rest of a film. If you somehow missed the first minute and a half of It Cuts Deep, you might imagine that you are watching a breezy relationship film in which the inadequacies of Sam (Charles Gould) are exposed and skewered to hilarious effect. He is a mamma’s boy and man-child, transparently selfish, barely competent, deploying half-funny jokes (funny for us partly because they are ironised by their half-funny status) as a buttress against any serious issue that he is unwilling to face, and going out of his way to avoid any talk from his girlfriend Ashley (Quinn Jackson) about marriage and kids. Horrifically insecure but also realistic in his outlook, Sam knows that he has got very lucky with the clever, charming Ashley, and that he will need to step up to her expectations if he does not wish to lose her. The stage is set for an indie comedy of cringe, as Sam will be forced, kicking and screaming, into the adulthood, husbandhood, even fatherhood that he has so long rejected – or he will be dumped. It could go either way.
Yet there is that opening scene, in which a young couple are interrupted in their Christmas copulation by a man (his face kept out of shot) in overalls who kills them with a machete. This is the prologue to a classic calendar slasher, and it casts its shadow over everything that follows as we are left to work out just how that scene will connect to Sam and Ashley’s awkward impasse. Vacationing with Ashley over Christmas in his childhood holiday home, Sam notices when they arrive that the garage door is half-open – and then he keeps running into his former colleague and ‘best friend’ of ten years ago, the charismatic Nolan (John Anderson), who is now a married father, and embodies everything that Sam has failed to become. Nolan’s omnipresence spawns intense, increasingly aggressive anxiety in Sam, as he becomes jealous of Nolan’s winning personality and nervous that Nolan’s ubiquity feels like stalking. Nolan also – we note – wears overalls for his work, is prone to outbursts of anger, is very handy with an axe – and is closely related to a local murder from ten years earlier.
So there is a blurring of genres here, as scenes that ought to be innocuous become contaminated with our expectation of horror. Suddenly Ashley’s rehearsal of a difficult revelation in the shower recalls Psycho (1960), while in this setting – a sort-of cabin near the woods – even Ash and Sam’s names begin to resonate with those of the protagonist (Ashley Williams) and director (Sam Raimi) of The Evil Dead (1981).
Sam’s unraveling paranoia about the ever-present Nolan infects It Cuts Deep like a sickness, bringing darkness to everything – and that tension between comedy and horror becomes the beating heart of writer/director Nicholas Santos’ feature debut. We know from the opening that this story is going eventually to spiral to a bloody end, but the direction that it takes still manages to surprise while using the mixed languages of genre to portray masculinity at its most toxically crazy. This is smart low-budget horror with a real core of character-driven emotional honesty shining through its psychothriller trappings. For the film cuts deep both ways.
strap: Nicholas Santos’ It Cuts Deep uses a heady mix of character comedy and slasher tropes to skewer a crazy kind of toxic masculinity.
© Anton Bitel