NOVEMBER 7, 2012
If I could offer one piece of advice to filmmakers making a low budget/independent horror film that will rely on support from folks like my pals at Dread Central, Fangoria, etc, it would be to not make their horror fan character an antisocial weirdo. If there's anyone guys like me will identify with (at first, anyway) in Gut, it would be Dan, the best friend/co-worker of our hero, who wears Fright Rags t-shirts under his business casual work shirt and is thus "one of us". But he's also an obnoxious freak who invites his friend over to watch snuff films and makes fun of him for taking his daughter to a Pixar movie.
See, and maybe I'm not the best person to point this out given the nature of the site, but most horror fans I talk to love all kinds of movies. The same people I sit on panels with about the state of horror or whatever are the ones I call when I want to see the new James Bond or Fast & Furious sequel, and yes, I saw Pixar's Wall-E with the guy who made me shave my beard and dress as a monster. Thus, it's kind of off-putting to present one as a guy who would insult his supposed best friend for wanting to watch non-genre fare, especially so soon into a movie when we're still figuring out who these people are. "So this is a horror movie, and the guy that likes horror movies is a whiny asshole that no one would want to hang out with. Cool."
But that's minor compared to the movie's larger, all but crippling flaw - it's uneventful in a way that might make Ti West impatient. The movie has four locations, and we just cycle through repetitive scenes within those places. Dan and hero Tom go to work at their non-descript office job (one that seemingly involves typing a few keys into a Microsoft Word document and nothing else), Dan and Tom go to lunch at a little railcar diner, Tom goes home to spend time with his family, and Dan (sometimes with Tom) watches the snuff films at the movie's center. And that's it, there's no real deviation. By the 4th time they are seen going to this diner, I began to wonder if they spent their entire paycheck eating there sometimes twice a day, and by the 7th I was just sick of looking at it. I suppose the blank, personality-free locations (and characters, for the most part) are part of the point, in order to show how much a creepy snuff film does not belong in this (or any other) world, but a slog is still a slog.
Plus, with everything so vague and everyone so underdeveloped, it's incredibly difficult to really get into the film or invest yourself in its proceedings. I'm all for a movie that slowly draws you in, but here, even at the 80 minute mark I still felt like the movie hadn't really gotten going yet. There's an elevated sense of detachment to the proceedings that I found rather troubling, as if the director didn't even WANT me to care too much about what was happening. Some of that might just be simple budgetary restraint - this movie clearly didn't have a lot of money at its disposal, so perhaps some of the vagueness was the result of not having a real production design team, but again, justified or not, I found it hard to penetrate.
It's also one of those movies that want to remain ambiguous, so it ends on a question mark and lets you decide who the killer was, who was sending the DVDs, etc. Fine, but there was nothing much in the part of the movie that led up to that "conclusion" that made me think it was worth putting that much effort into considering theories. I'll spend all day with someone debating over whether or not it was MacReady or Childs that was infected at the end of The Thing, because the movie fired on all cylinders throughout - great, likable characters, etc. Plus, it actually left something up for chance, as we didn't know who would survive, if anyone. But here, there are only four other characters in the movie (all female) besides our two heroes, and since the plot is about a series of snuff films being sent to them, it's obvious that eventually the killer will strike close to home. And worse, we barely spend any time with them, so it's hard to even get too upset when they're offed, which should be the point.
And it's a shame, because this could have been a terrific, disturbing short film (not TOO short; like one of those 25 minute ones that usually caps off a short block at a festival), because there things like vaguely defined characters and a not fleshed out world are acceptable - we get the gist and get on with it. A short could have skipped over the go-nowhere padding (Dan provides us with an endless Predator imitation at one point) and gotten to the meat of the story, and we would walk away satisfied even if it too didn't give us all the answers at the end. A film has to earn that ambiguity, and sadly writer/director Elias (that's it; not sure if it's a first or last name) didn't quite get there. I think he was going for a Videodrome meets Serbian Film type thing here, and I think that's actually an awesome idea for a movie, but this isn't it.
On the plus side, it's well made, the male and female actors alike are obviously comfortable with nudity (there's a lot of it), and the FX on the flesh wounds (the title refers to the killer's favorite target) are quite good. It's weird, low budget productions tend to suffer in these areas, but here the thing that kept it at bay was the script. The resources they had seem like they would have been enough for a better film, but the script's paper thin characters, repetitive sequencing, and lack of any true stakes never let it come together in a satisfying way. It's the cinematic equivalent of that old parent's standby: "I'm not angry, I'm DISAPPOINTED."
What say you?