More and more independent horrors film are being made nowadays. On the behind-the-scenes screener page of Film Inquiry (where the team pick their next film for review from a bunch of them submitted to us for consideration), the majority come from budding filmmakers with a new horror flick. For new and upcoming filmmakers, horror is the most accessible genre: limited budgets can usually manage to cover some guts and gore and every day locations, more so than they can afford extensive set pieces and fancy locations. It is also easier to discover talented actors than it is to discover a hilarious comedian to carry a comedy, meaning it seems to be the go-to genre for those shooting a feature-length for the first time.
The team will surely back me up, but we have sat through a lot of horror films. A lot. Most of them are decent if unspectacular, delivered to us from individuals passionate about a career in the industry, pouring their heart and soul into the first slice from their filmography. My latest choice and with no disrespect intended to other indie horrors (I seem to have a knack of picking relatively good screeners), Cut Shoot Kill from writer-director Michael Walker feels a little smarter and sharper than most other independent horror flicks.
Its initial premise may seem a little thin but the thrills emerge the further you sink in. Despite her better judgment, Serena Brooks (Alexandra Socha) takes the lead role on a slasher-horror film, set out in the middle of nowhere and cut off from civilisation. She’s understandably skeptical, particularly with the knowledge that the director’s previous ‘scream queen’ starlet was mysteriously murdered, but with the desire to become a certified leading lady, she accepts the role.
There’s more than meets the eye to Cut Shoot Kill. What appears on the surface as your standard B-movie horror eventually turns into something with a little more bite and sophistication, an almost satirical take on the genre. It feels largely reminiscent of Drew Goddard’s 2012 directorial-debut, The Cabin in the Woods. Similar to that success story, Cut Shoot Kill doesn’t take long for the blood to spill, tension to rise, secrets to spill and atmosphere to sear.
Brains, brawn and respect
Cut Shoot Kill wastes little time crafting a suitably uncomfortable atmosphere that pervades throughout the piece. Michael Walker, writer and director, does a satisfying job of wringing out an intensity through his creeping camerawork and the claustrophobic, isolated setting. While the dialogue feels heavy-handed and inauthentic at times, it musters some smart ideas regarding the myopic mindset of those involved in the industry, alongside the toxic determination of people looking to manifest their art into something more cutting. Cut Shoot Kill is smarter than many will be tempted to give it credit for.
As the narrative unfolds, you begin to sense that the bigger picture is being missed. In my attempt to avoid spoiler-y territory, I’ll cut this part short and say, for the most part, it works. After a few false starts that become all the more grating, the truer, twisty film is revealed; by the time it arrives, it feels inevitable – but the buildup and tension is continually palpable, engaging and exciting to witness.
A game cast is assembled for the flick. Socha channels Jena Malone in the role, a steely, driven character with her heart on Hollywood but her brain looking for the quickest route to get there. It is an assured, confident performance from Socha as Serena and while not the most likeable character, earns our support as she goes guns-blazing into the finale. Alex Hurt’s Alabama Chapman is the overbearing director with his being deeply rooted in the art he produces. Another sturdy performance, he helps demonstrate a lot to the discomfort so intrinsic to the piece and the genre. Padding out the supporting cast, the likes of Jay Devore and Phil Burke deliver fine performances.
Cut Shoot Kill has one killer flaw though: it lacks restraint. What works effectively the first and second time begins to become stale by the third and tiresome by the fourth; the blood and gore on display is more impactful when demonstrated with restraint, rather than the bloody third act which becomes unnecessary and, dare I say, unrealistic. Again, the ‘less is more’ lessons seems to have been skipped and would have improved the film with more control exhibited.
A killer flaw
That one flaw is a real blow for an otherwise solid horror B-movie. An inability to practise self-control hinders the final five minutes the most: again, cautious of spoilers, the final scene and twist could have been tremendously interesting – but the whiplash from a character’s clear discomfort, to their seemingly joyful involvement in the next scene damages most of the character work up until that point.
We understand the dilemma and sympathise with them over the decision they are forced to ponder – but when the next scene demonstrates their almost gleeful involvement, it feels like a dagger to the stomach. It completely undermines the characters’ strength and resilience, leaving the audience on a rather bitter note they are forced to accept as the credits roll. Attempting to end with a shocking twist undermines the film completely when its execution relents and ignores the hard work and development that character had undergone.
Cut Shoot Kill?
Out on V.O.D. this week, Cut Shoot Kill is worth your time. It is by no means the most inventive genre piece – with a number of difficulties and snags along the way – but it provides audiences with what they have come to except (and maybe even a little bit more of a bite), with blood, guts and tension to spare. It is a mostly well-made indie horror, with a solid cast and direction to boot, even though restraint would provide us with a tighter example of filmmaking on a budget.
Cut Shoot Kill sounds like a twisted game of Snog Marry Avoid. With that in mind, let’s make up our own game: Buy, Rent, Ignore? Should you rush out to buy Cut Shoot Kill, to keep in your collection till the end of time? Rent the film for a rainy day, a fun, disposable watch? Or ignore it completely. For me, the answer well and truly lies with ‘rent’. Cut Shoot Kill is a film that deserves your time and attention but likely won’t leave you running back to see it again.
What is your favourite indie horror of late? Have you discovered any gems? Share them with us in the comments section!
Cut Shoot Kill is now available on V.O.D in the US.