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Cut! (2014)

Killer Distribution

It would be easy to write off David Rountree’s Cut! as “soft-core Saw”, with its harried hostages and zero-hour revelation montage—but Clerks is closer to the mark. The movie centers on two friends who work at a Hollywood equipment rental company that’s going out of business. Travis (Rountree) is an aspiring filmmaker. Lane (David Banks) is an ex-con who’s more interested in prostitutes than production deals. One is a dissatisfied but obedient worker; the other is a rules-breaking, sarcastic loudmouth. 

Things get complicated when the two stumble into a dark cinéma vérité experiment: killing people on camera and then editing the footage into a narrative horror movie. Lane recruits a mentally ill homeless man (Sam Scarber) for the knife-wielding-psycho part, and lures hookers, an annoying customer, and a judgmental co-worker into becoming his immortalized victims.*

In the vein of Saw, Cut! piles twist upon twist upon twist upon twist, forming a black hole of cleverness that devours its final minutes. Crafting a story in which a few elements aren’t what they seem is one thing, but something has to be real in order for the audience to make back its emotional investment. 

For a moment, Rountree and Banks really had that something. Travis and Lane are a respectively mushier and murderous take on Kevin Smith’s Dante and Randal. I would have loved for Cut! to have been a black comedy that followed these two around L.A., racking up bodies while ripping each other’s heads off. Sadly, the writers make the mistake of taking their ludicrous but fertile premise too seriously. By straying into standard-thriller territory, they highlight Travis’ dearth of protagonist material and ultimately rob Lane of his mystique.

Cut! reminds me a great deal of the Restraining Hollywood films I’ve seen, like In Harm’s Way. Modestly budgeted, mostly well acted, and shot beautifully, there’s an undeniable level of passion here that’s backed up by solid filmmaking. I would show this to anyone wondering if “real” movies can be made outside the studio system. But a handful of genuinely effective moments can’t save a thriller whose story falls short of its heart.

*Gabrielle Stone and Chris Moir are terrific in this movie, as is Banks as its creepy jokester of a villain. These actors do wonders in selling the screenplay’s awkward detour into grimness.