Cut Shoot Kill
Serena Brooks, an ambitious young actress, signs on as the star of a horror film with a crew of backwoods filmmakers that have worked together for years. When the cast starts disappearing, Serena has to become her character if she wants to survive.
Cut Shoot Kill.
Stop what you’re doing and seek it out. Watch it. Enjoy it. Remember it. Think about it.
I’ve let this screening sit in my brain for almost 24 hours, as I needed to allow it some time to really simmer.
There’s been a resurgence of slasher films, both feature and short – and they’re all doing the same thing: They’re taking the overdone cliches and overused tropes of ‘80s stalk-n-slash films and they’ve turned them on their ear.
Films like last year’s Found Footage 3D (review) and the short film The Babysitter Murders have breathed new life into this old-timey horror subgenre – but Cut Shoot Kill may just take the cake and hold it’s head high as the potential winner.
New York City actress Serena Brooks (Alexandra Socha) takes a gig as the lead in a slasher film – against her better judgment. Shooting the film is writer/director Alabama Chapman (Alex Hunt) and his long-time crew of hick friends. As the three-week shoot in upstate New York presses on – Alabama’s need for “reality” and “real reactions” from his actors – takes on a new meaning. Serena awkwardly tries to bond with her fellow actors, but once these same actors wrap and then quickly “disappear”, she’ll discover what this tightly-bonded and long-lasting group of filmmakers is really all about.
Where the film succeeds (with flying colors, I might add) is it’s seamless intertwining of various scenes. From one moment to the next, you’ll be wondering if what you’re seeing is the actual film, the film within the film, or a re-edited version of the film within a film – as the editor watches the dailies. Get it? Almost every time, you’ll eventually be let in on what you’re seeing, but while it’s happening, it’s absolutely thrilling and awesomely unique.
Perhaps I overuse this phrase – but I found Cut Shoot Kill to be something of a “mind-fuck” – in a very good way. The various scenes of “is this the character or the actor?” take the film to a whole new level of “meta”. I kept waiting for the ball to drop on the quality and tempo of the film – but it held its ground all the way through.
Performance-wise – Cut Shoot Kill is impressive all the way around. It’s an authentic and gifted ensemble (including a supporting performance from Orange is the New Black’s Catherine Curtin – as the production team’s craft services).
But the film belongs completely to its lead – Alexandra Socha as Serena Brooks – who appears to be the love child of Westworld’s Evan Rachel Wood and Scream’s Neve Campbell (both in appearance and the high quality of her acting). She falls easily into the “final girl” role as the film goes on, but its her initial performer pomposity and then the slow removal of her guarded mask (namely in the brilliant scene where she is having a mold taken of her face for some eventual special effects). She becomes claustrophobic and panicky and then falls into the arms of director Alabama.
And it’s this moment (as well as any of her one-on-one moments opposite Alex Hunt as said director) which provides several of the film’s highlights. There’s a scintillating chemistry between these actors/characters and this tension is never consummated on-screen, but you’ll certainly be left wanting more.
But even with this stellar lead performance and the enticing flames between the two leads, the film isn’t perfect. Serena is absolutely not an easy way into the film. The character is prissy, cold and again; guarded. She’s not someone you’ll immediately sympathize with… and actually, you never really will. We get hints as to a more fragile side to her, but never quite get enough to really, truly like her. And that’s an issue – for a film’s central character in general. But to not fall in love (or at least like) with a horror film’s final girl – it’s a bigger issue.
Another problem, is that the film doesn’t appear to follow all of its own rules. At certain points (after it has already been established that real killings are being filmed to be included in the final product) we’re to believe that the character (not the “character” – if that makes sense) wouldn’t see or respond to the cameras filming while they die? Because we do see footage later of this sequence. It doesn’t ring true, especially when the filmmakers (the real ones, not the fake ones) firmly set up how it will work. In my opinion, that’s a pretty big stumble. The most notable issue is with the character of Candice (a wonderful supporting performance from Lexi Lapp). One of her final scenes perfectly illustrates this giant misstep of logic and not following the rules of this particular universe.
One other complaint is that – while certainly realistic as far as cast/crew size – having this many people was confusing for a good majority of the film. Most of the film’s crew were long-haired, be-stubbled, hipster dudes (with the exception of Curtin’s mother figure). I could barely tell them apart – and even by the film’s end, I wouldn’t be able to tell you who was who in a line-up. Was that the editor, the producer or the boom operator?
Gore effects are top-notch and actually grotesque (check out the photo directly above). There’s not much as far as scares, so in that – it’s not your typical stalk-n-slash. But it’s got so much more to offer as far as originality – so a scare-less film is forgivable.
And as an actor, it was a lot of fun to see the ensemble of various actor personalities. I have seen and have known all of these “actor-types” throughout my life. But since the film is just over 90 minutes, you’ll never really get to know these other characters – so stereotypes is all they are (enjoyably so or not).
The ending is unexpected, but still in keeping with the rest of the film. It works. But most importantly, the major shifts at the film’s completion – make you want to see what’s next for these people. And that’s just about the highest compliment to be paid to a film – if you find yourself longing for the experience to continue.
Strong performances, a brilliant new take on the slasher genre with a mind-bending conception and structure make Cut Shoot Kill a good bet for placement on my “Best of” list at the end of the year (despite those glaring problems mentioned above). For sure, check this one out!
Cut Shoot Kill is now available on DVD/VOD.