IT CUTS DEEP (2020)

It Cuts Deep.jpg

Studio:      Dark Sky Films
Director:    Nicholas Payne Santos
Writer:      Nicholas Payne Santos
Producer:  Kristy Richman, Nicholas Payne Santos
Stars:     Charles Gould, Quinn Jackson, John Anderson

Review Score:

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Summary:

A man with commitment issues brings his girlfriend to his childhood home where a former friend drives another unusual wedge between them.


Synopsis:     

Review:

Sam isn¡¯t fond of children. He¡¯s less fond of marriage. He is fond of his ¡®content with mediocrity¡¯ girlfriend Ashley however, and her itchy ring finger is overdue for a diamond.

Whenever Ashley even hints at the word ¡°wedding,¡± Sam deflects with wisecracks about his dick size or by half-jokingly bartering for ¡°butt stuff.¡± Now it¡¯s Christmastime and parents are probably going to pile on additional pressure. Sam heads off that annual obstacle at the pass by arranging a holiday getaway for just the two of them at a childhood home he hasn¡¯t visited since a double murder took place 10 years ago.

Or rather, it was supposed to be a quiet couple¡¯s retreat. Then a trip into town results in running into Nolan. Claiming to be Sam¡¯s best friend from way back when, Nolan insists on inserting himself between Sam and Ashley. Ashley finds Nolan to be a charming distraction. Sam sees him as something else.

Whether it¡¯s all in Sam¡¯s head or a true threat to Sam¡¯s relationship, Nolan seems to have a secret agenda up his sleeve. Something unspoken from their past also connects Sam and Nolan in a way that makes Sam deeply uncomfortable. Ashley might laugh at Nolan¡¯s jokes and return his casual smiles, but what he says out of earshot warns Sam that Nolan could be gunning for his girlfriend. To stop this potential problem before it develops into danger, Sam may have to confront a grim skeleton in the closet that Ashley knows nothing about.

¡°It Cuts Deep¡± puts me in a bit of a critic¡¯s pickle. Maybe not a full-size pickle. Maybe more of a cornichon.

After reviewing over 1,500 features, and having worked on more than a few film sets too, I¡¯ve developed a reliable eye for what¡¯s deliberate and what isn¡¯t, who is doing good work and who isn¡¯t, and I know how to adjust that scale according to the scope of the picture. Yet with ¡°It Cuts Deep,¡± I¡¯m having an unexpectedly tougher time sussing out how much of the movie¡¯s black comedy quirk is intentionally orchestrated to be awkward, and how much of it might be owed to a DTV indie aesthetic cutting into the atmosphere with amateurism.

Regarding the performers specifically, I can¡¯t tell what kind of chemistry Charles Gould and Quinn Jackson have as Sam and Ashley, or if they have any at all. The union between them is supposed to be an ill fit, so there¡¯s an argument to be made that this could be the point. But it¡¯s hard to be on Ashley¡¯s side in the ¡°should they or shouldn¡¯t they marry¡± debate when she and Sam seem better suited as siblings or co-workers than two people who even mistakenly think they¡¯re in love. That comes down to casting, not their characterizations.

It¡¯s not that they¡¯re bad actors. At least, I don¡¯t think so. Maybe they¡¯re merely green. They certainly don¡¯t have typical Hollywood appearances. Gould¡¯s curly mop, scraggly beard, and distinctive features portray him as a slumping chump before dialogue does. When he opens his mouth, there¡¯s a 50% chance his dry delivery is due to how Sam¡¯s dead fish persona is written. The other 50% says such stiltedness could be due to onscreen inexperience. Gould features in some fun physical bits, so that part of performing fares better. Whether coughing on cue, failing to flip a pancake, or floundering while chopping wood, Gould¡¯s Chevy Chase ham adds amusement. Pinches of improvisation are where he and the rest of the roster show that more interactive theatrical techniques are not as ready for prime time.

Everyone settles into their roles as ¡°It Cuts Deep¡± rolls forward. Annoying qualities are baked into personalities from the beginning. But enough likability ekes out from affable antics to make Ashley, Sam, and Nolan easier to tolerate after bitter first tastes wash away.

Around the same time they start winning you over though, ¡°It Cuts Deep¡± starts wandering. The halfway point aims to have an audience wondering what¡¯s really going on between Sam and Nolan and who the real bad guy might be. It¡¯s incredibly unlikely that the ultimate reveal will shock anyone. Not that it needs to. This isn¡¯t a twist-dependent thriller.

But as a weirdo romantic drama colored with horror as well as humor, getting caught up in the consistently cryptic confrontations between the two men causes ¡°It Cuts Deep¡± to lose sight of its ¡°fear of commitment¡± theme. Commentary about compromise, dreading the future, and settling for substandard partners gets sidelined to drop crumbs for a slasher mystery that doesn¡¯t need development since you only need one guess to figure it out. Subtext swings back around to be blunter in how the plot parallels Sam and Ashley¡¯s arc. By then, the sudden switch to straight suspense separates ¡°It Cuts Deep¡± into two entities that have a difficult time working together. Huh. Kind of like Sam and Ashley.

¡°It Cuts Deep¡¯s¡± oddball identity could be a tonal thing that writer/director Nicholas Payne Santos purposefully blueprinted. It could also be an accidental outcome of independent actors and freshmen filmmakers fumbling with the craft. Viewers are going to see it both ways as ¡°It Cuts Deep¡± is very much a ¡°your mileage may vary¡± movie. I can convincingly conclude that at only 75 minutes, it¡¯s not a terribly big risk to find out the hard way if the film isn¡¯t a fit for you.

Review Score: 55