IT CUTS DEEP **** USA 2020 Dir: Nicholas Santos. 77 mins
Riffing on the slasher tropes built into his earlier shorts (notably HOLIDAY FEAR) debuting feature writer-director Nicholas Santos captures the relationship holocaust of Christmas in IT CUTS DEEP. Opening with an archetypal festive slasher prologue – a horny young couple butchered by a mystery killer – it swiftly shifts into something more relatable, more human before nodding again to the sub-genre for a bloody denouement.
Sam (Charles Gould) and Ashley (Quinn Jackson) have been together for several years. She is sensible and loyal and yearns to take their relationship to the next level: i.e. marriage and kids. He’s a terrible cook with an adolescent fixation on “trying the butt stuff”. He deflects serious talk about raising a family with anal sex jokes. The couple take a vacation in his hometown, where Sam is awkwardly reunited with the old work friend, Nolan (John Anderson) whose text messages he has continually ignored.
A psycho thriller narrative bubbles under the surface of IT CUTS DEEP, with Nolan’s mood swings and sideways glances suggesting a potential maniac, but most of the “cuts” are of the more painful emotional kind. Santos’ perceptive, witty script has a sharp eye for telling detail: Nolan’s partner Lauren is so defined by her role as “his wife” that Sam fails to remember her actual name, getting it wrong even when she reminds him. The deftly played observational humour extends to low-key slapstick: note Sam’s inadequacy in performing the manly task of chopping firewood.
At the core of the story is Sam’s inability to conform to the expectations of both his gender and his age group. As played by Gould, he’s emotionally stunted, prone to crap jokes and at times maddening – but also wholly empathetic. Resent the pressure of holding a friend’s baby even though you have no interest in kids? Feeling the weight of getting a phone call from your mum that’s just a reminder of how much she wants grandchildren? Sam knows your pain. Nolan, maniac or not, personifies the peer pressure that comes with being in your thirties and in a long term relationship.
Sam’s own insecurities and existing paranoia are heightened by the unwanted reunion with Nolan and the annual pressures of That Most Wonderful Stressful Time of the Year. The film has a simmering tension even in its observational humour about ridiculous masculinity (note the funny / unnerving confrontation that arises from the insistence “I’ll get the wood”). In the least showy role of the trio, Quinn Jackson brings a lot of heart to her own emotional arc as a smart, tolerant woman with her own hang-ups and fears. Confronted by two representations of fragile male egos during the climactic showdown, she provides this clever, offbeat character-driven indie horror with its suitably bittersweet punchline.
Review by Steven West