Tom (Jason Vail) and Dan (Nicholas Wilder) are best friends. They grew up together and now work at the same office, but while Tom has a wife and kids Dan is seemingly content living in their past. His main hobbies are watching horror films and constantly trying to pry Tom away from his family to join him. Tom’s interest has been waning though, both in his friend and and his family, and as the hours and days of his mundane life tick by his unease with it all grows.
And then Dan shows him an apparent snuff film.
Four actual characters eat it here in violent ways along with one or two anonymous snuff stars.
There’s some stabbing, slicing and asphyxiation on display here, but the standout scenes involve a woman’s torso being sliced open and then felt up on the inside. I say standout because the effects used to accomplish this are pretty spectacular.
For two horror geeks these guys sure are having lots of sex. We get post-coital boobs and a sexy time strip down from Tom’s wife, some nekkid waitress action and some random victim breasts.
VCRs are dangerous.
The movie that Dan finds online from an underground VHS swap-meet is a snuff-like film of a very specific nature. A nude, prone woman with her wrists tied above her head is sliced open with a vertical cut above her navel. We see the killer’s hands remove one of the surgical gloves and then the bare hand slowly work its way into the woman’s open wound. It’s equal parts perverse and intimate, and the two friends can’t take their eyes away from the screen. Both men become obsessed in their own way with Tom finding the images stuck in his head and Dan ordering a second, similar film.
Events spiral slowly down from there as Dan acquires more tapes and more unexplained absences from work. Tom meanwhile can’t even kiss his wife’s stomach or blow raspberries on his young daughter’s belly without seeing a knife slicing them open.
Writer/director Elias‘s slowburn of a film is a dramatic look at obsession and loneliness with splashes of the red stuff and heaps of flesh, but it’s also a not-so subtle cautionary tale about the danger of becoming immersed in the depths and depravities of extreme horror. It’s that last element that sees the film on a bit of a shaky ground as the implications seem clear without any substantial discussion.
Tom and Dan are responsible adults with jobs and homes, but are we meant to believe a lifetime of avid horror film watching is enough to alter someone’s person in dangerous ways anyway? Maybe. Their referencing of actual genre films doesn’t live up to the extremes most likely necessary for such a thing though as their discussion of Mindy Clark in Return of the Living Dead 3 is the harshest film they mention. It all leads to a conclusion the weight of which lacks any real support.
That intimation aside the script does a fine job, especially in the first two acts, of maintaining an unpredictability as to how things will end. Are the films real, and if so who’s behind them? And if it’s one of them… which one? A case can be made for both sides, and it becomes a mystery that may see viewers changing their suspicions every few minutes.
Vail, who resembles a gaunt Bill Rancic, does a fairly good job with his role as family man slowly descending into a possible madness. He does show his junk a bit too frequently though. Wilder is a bit less successful as Dan is a bit too much too soon. He has no baseline and instead is always artificially on in some way, and it doesn’t always work.
Gut is an interesting drama about psychopathic urges worming their way into otherwise stable lives. Its slow pace may irk some, but the mystery that grows. Is it saying a love of horror films can lead to homicidal urges? Possibly, but if it is it’s doing so with little to back it up the statement. The film is better viewed as a character study of two potentially lost souls veering towards oblivion by way of a very sharp blade.
The Upside: Offers real uncertainty in first two acts; solid practical effects; often sexy
The Downside: Pacing occasionally becomes too slow; acting quality wavers in and out; ending becomes inevitable and unsatisfying
On the Side: According to IMDB, writer/director Elias has also used the alias Biff Juggernaut.
Gut is currently available On Demand and opens this weekend in limited theatrical release in NYC