It Cuts Deep (Nightstream) (Movie Review)

Luke's rating: ★ ★ ★ Director: Nicholas Santos | Release Date: 2020

Screened as a part of Nightstream. Check out their line up and find more information at the Nightstream website. Thank you to Nightstream and all the festivals involved for providing Bloody Good Horror access to their lineup.

Love hurts and we’ve all got baggage, which is a notion that looms over every single frame of Nicholas Santos’s feature debut It Cuts Deep. That’s not all though. Santos’s vision is also an exceedingly off-kilter horror comedy that mightily wields it’s machete clad arm at parenthood anxieties and fears of fragile masculinity.

It Cuts Deep opens with a bizarre generic, throwback slasher-esque murder before cutting to the mumblecore tinged, unexplainable romance between Ashley (Quinn Jackson) and Sam (Charles Gould)—two people who could not want more different things out of life or their relationship. Ashely is hinting at getting married and perhaps starting a family. Sam keeps cutting her off by suggesting they introduce “butt stuff” into the bedroom. The two abscond to Sam’s childhood home over a Christmas vacation and Sam’s world begins to spiral out of control when an old friend, Nolan (John Anderson), re-enters the picture and threatens Sam’s delusional perspective on his and Ashley’s relationship.

Initially I thought the opening of It Cuts Deep was going to reveal the main characters watching a hacky Halloween/Friday the 13th knockoff. Surprisingly we find this sequence becomes fairly integral to the plot. This sort of tonal shift is indicative of the bizarre experience you’ll endure over the course of the film’s lean 77 minutes. The deeper into Santos’s script you get, the more his peculiar vision is magnified. Sam is a supremely unlikeable person to the point it becomes completely baffling why Ashley is still with this tool. Smug, self-satisfied smile aside, Sam oozes with a fragile and toxic ego and an utterly inexplicable cadence when he communicates the most mundane of sentiments. Ashley -- and Jackson’s portrayal of her -- is a forthright and just trying to make things work. Of the duo she is the emotional core at the center of all the tonally indifferent comedy swirling around her. She plays along with Sam’s constant butt play interjections at one point, but it feels more of a defeated ploy than a woman fully satisfied with their back-and-forth antics. The flabbergasted nature of Ashley’s perception toward Sam is about the only relatable lean Santos’s script has going for it.

Clearly inspired by and going for an immensely dark and irreverent sense of humor, Santos’s script works better than it seems like it should. The writing obscures a clearly obvious comedic tone for something more unique. Sam at one point responds to a crack about his penis as tense music plays. He stares with dead eyes stating, “Don’t talk about my dick.” It’s actually quite funny though not a single element around it screams comedy. This tone is sustained throughout the film resulting in funny and seemingly accidental occurrences that are in fact intentional, thus making this an extremely hard movie to judge upon an initial viewing.

Working in conjunction with Santos's script are the trio of leads and in the middle of this strange chest bumping man feud is Ashley. Presented as an emotional fulcrum, Jackson's character is grounded and relatable and in stark contrast to Sam and Nolan’s rampaging egos. It's hard to tell if Gould's stunted line delivery is a choice or a broader exploration of a character with some serious issues. As Nolan, Anderson shifts from level-headed to animated and over-the-top sometimes in the same sentence. It's hard to get a grasp on exactly who these male characters really are as Santos is playing with a fractured perspective that often becomes more apparent when we are positioned with Gould's POV. Sam seems to often be visualizing conversations and actions that aren't actually happening as Santos explores the fragile psyche of an insecure man. How effective that vision is varies simply because combining this style of humor and tension feels diametrically opposed. And yet, at times all the performances and dark humor blend very well making It Cuts Deep tough to truly become accustomed to.

It Cuts Deep is an odd duck of a film. It seems to aspire to be in the realm of horror comedy, but it’s use of comedy is more blunt and deadpan than it is playful. There’s promise in how shocking and surreal the structure and performances feel, but it also could prove to be off-putting early and often for many genre fans. It Cuts Deep targets your funny bone in unusual ways and for many viewers it will be worth navigating its peculiar nature.

Screened as part of the 2020 Nightstream Virtual Film Festival.


Staff Writer

Horror movies and beer - the only two viable options for entertainment in the wastelands of Nebraska as far as he's concerned. When he's not in the theater he's probably drinking away the sorrows of being a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.