Tuesday, 5 May 2015


The Shakespearean-style 'play within a play', or to update it for modern media, a film within a film, is a sterling storytelling tool. It is a technique that, when used intelligently, adds an extra layer of meaning as well as examining the storytelling process itself.
David Rountree's Cut! is one such title that uses this narrative device. It has met plenty of praise for its smart and edgy plot.
I was lucky enough to receive a Blu-ray screener from the folks at Psycho Rock Productions and looked forward to seeing what all the fuss was about.
Would this one cut the mustard? Or would I want the filmmakers to cut it out?
Read on...

CUT! (2015)

Dir: David Rountree 
Starring: David Rountree, David Banks, Sam Scarber, Dahlia Salem, Chris Moir, Gabrielle Stone, Suze Lanier-Bramlett, Billy McNamara, Lauren Nash

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Disillusioned young film supply workers Travis (Rountree) and Lane (Banks) are eaking out an existence working their final few shifts until the company they are employed by ceases its operations in just a few weeks.
Idealistic Travis is sick and tired of seeing clueless directors slapping together artless and hackneyed throwaway garbage movies. Meanwhile Travis's friend maladjusted ex-con Lane is just blowing his paycheques on drugs and prostitutes until the authorities catch up with him regarding a string of missed meetings with his probation officer.
As Lane's life deteriorates into a series of ill-mannered outbursts at work — mainly with colleague Jake (Moir) — and decidedly misogynistic incidents with the hookers with whom he spends his evenings, Travis strikes on the idea of using company property outside of work hours to craft a truly terrifying horror movie. Lame is eager to assist, and when the pair realise that they have little in the way of funds to pay a cast, they strike on the outlandish idea of scaring people for real to get a hyper-realistic performance.
Initial outings yield minor problems, but after the pair recruit a deranged homeless man (Scarber) and exotic call girl (Salem) for one of their scenes, events take a tragic turn.
Is this the end of the pair's movie-making exploits?
Or just the beginning?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): It's difficult to choose which is Cut!'s biggest strength. To me it is a toss-up between two things: the two wonderfully written and played leads and the fantastic plot development late on that utterly changes the film as you watch it.
Dealing with the first of those, the leads as played by co-writers Rountree and Banks are like an extreme version of Dante and Randall, the lead characters in Kevin Smith's Clerks movies. And I do mean extreme, the opening scene with Lane does a pretty fine job of letting you know that this is one cynical slacker who won't be played purely for laughs.
This isn't to say that Banks' performance is entirely po-faced, far from it. His monstrous and antagonistic rants — most notably that directed towards Gabrielle Stone (up and coming actress and daughter of Dee Wallace Stone, star of The Howling and The Hills Have Eyes) alongside her mother's HHE co-star Susan Lanier-Bramlett — are toe-curlingly funny at times. He veers from amusing to terrifying with alarming rapidity and drives a lot of the more tense and disturbing moments of the film. I'd not seen Banks' work prior to this film but I shall certainly be looking out for him in the future. He's excellent.
The other half of this double act is director Rountree, working both sides of the camera. His impassioned and sympathetic Travis is a likeable and believable protagonist, palpably torn between his passion to make a truly great picture, his allegiance to his severely unhinged friend and his rapidly fraying sense of right and wrong. It could be easy to look at Rountree as the reactionary 'straight man' to Bank's more ostentatious performance, and for much of Cut!'s runtime that seems to be the case, but events later on in the movie reveal this is to be a flawed evaluation. Rountree's character has a complex arc and, as well as showing real talent shooting the action, he is totally up the demands of the role. It's impressive to see this from a man who also co-wrote the script too.
This brings us to the other strong point, the zigzag ending of the picture. Obviously I can't and certainly wouldn't dream of ruining the plot, but suffice it to say that the outcome of Cut! is never predictable and guarantees that viewers will be sure to take a great deal of pleasure rewatching the movie to look for the clues scattered throughout. 
The ending isn't the only area of the screenplay in which the writing shines. Banks and Rountree have crafted a logical, yet unpredictable tale, filled with wild, often random seeming events that never stretch credulity, all punctuated with plenty of sparkling dialogue. It's a sterling example of how a well-executed and original low-budget indie genre flick can provide a far more rewarding viewing experience than any number of big studio, cookiecutter, CGI-laden, teen-friendly crapfests.
The film certainly transcends any budgetary constraints, wisely eschewing too many gore-laden splatter moments (which can be difficult to effectively create without significant effects funds), instead focusing on the tension and character moments. As the movie follows the shooting of a micro-budget horror flick the use of sets that best capture that atmosphere isn't just forgiven, it's practically a prerequisite. The movie doesn't come across as cheap by any stretch, an achievement in and of itself in indie horror! Credit must go to Rountree, plus director of photography Ace Underhill and art director Moir (who also appears onscreen and accounts for himself very well indeed) for the quite frankly gorgeous look they've given the movie at times. The shot in which Travis gazes out over the sunset in particular is absolutely stunning. This really is wonderful work, gentlemen.
So, as well as having a well-written script, intriguing plot and some fantastic visuals, you may wonder what else it has to offer? I think it would be criminal to overlook the great soundtrack. It really added to the mood of the flick and featured some marvellous music by Mark McDiffett. A film's soundtrack really can be the difference between a scene absolutely nailing its intended effect or spectacularly misfiring — here it is overwhelmingly the former.
Finally, while I praised the wonderful leads earlier it would be remiss to neglect to mention the other cast members who perform so well. As well as the aforementioned Moir, Scarber is another great actor. He totally owns his unsettling role as the homeless man drawn into the pair's scheme and is given a couple of very nice scenes, especially those later in the movie. He's awesome. 
Equally awesome are the lovely Salem and Nash, two very attractive ladies with fantastic acting chops to go with their looks. They both have a couple of very impressive scenes and show some nice range. These are two talented actresses that I eagerly look forward to seeing more of.
Speaking of fantastic actresses, it was brilliant to see Suze Lanier-Bramlett amongst the cast here. I loved her back in The Hills Have Eyes and she added some serious credential to Cut! with an effortless and classy performance. She's a real treasure. 
I was also very impressed by Gabrielle Stone. She's making a real name of herself at the moment (having clocked up nearly 30 acting credits already) and her work in Cut! makes it very easy to see why. She, like so many others, is quite excellent here. 

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): I thought Cut! was a very good film, however, that doesn't mean that it is without flaws.
Arguably the biggest problem to me was the pacing. It felt a little erratic at times and earlier on the movie seemed to take a few turns up storyline deadends before progressing. I understand that this served two purposes — to help slowly build tension and to show the learning process and initial faltering steps of our leads along their bloody path, however I've seen similar complaints in other reviews. Thankfully once the story finds its groove and starts to escalate in the second act, the remainder of the picture flies by.
Also, while I loved the twist ending, there is a second twist that loses a lot of its punch as it comes so soon on the heels of the first reveal. As such it actually underwhelms a little when, really, it feels like it could and probably should have hit a lot harder. Don't get me wrong, it isn't a poor ending, nor does it ruin anything that has gone before, it just feels like maybe it could have been executed a little better. Perhaps a few more minutes on the runtime could have given these revelations a little breathing space and contributed to a less hectic feeling finale.
Also, if you like horror movies to keep the blood and scares coming thick and fast, this one may not be for you. Yes, it has its share of disturbing moments but I wouldn't say it was a particularly scary flick.
Finally, while I praised the vast majority of the cast, there were a couple of people and occasions that didn't quite match the lofty standards of the best performers. Perhaps this is due to the extremely polished performances of the key players most of the time, but it did mean that a couple of less convincing line deliveries jarred when they popped up. Luckily these are quite few and far between so they don't present any serious barrier to enjoying the movie.

THE VERDICT: Cut! is a solid and intelligent horror flick from a talented team of individuals. It's got some black humour and a fantastic twist, plus it looks and sounds far better than its humble indie roots might suggest. I recommend it to anybody who would like a little more brains with their bloodshed. It's well worth your time!
You can buy the dvd/blu-ray on Amazon so there's no excuse.
Also check out the movie's official Facebook page. Give it a like while you're there too, show some support!

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.


  1. Much thanks to Steven Hickey of House of Horrors for taking the time to watch and review CUT!

    We appreciate all of your work!

    -David Rountree
    CUT! Director

    1. The pleasure was all mine, thanks for taking the time to read it!
      All the best