Tom and Dan are childhood friends and co-workers who have drifted apart over the years. Tom has a wife, a young daughter, responsibilities and obligations; Dan has steadfastly remained a geeky man-child with a goofy sense of humor and no desire to settle down; their only common interest remains their love of horror movies. Everything changes when Dan insists on showing Tom a DVD he received from an unknown sender; Tom, who assumes the video is “gore-porn,” is shocked when it turns out to be a snuff film. Watching these videos invigorates the two men, helping to resolve Tom’s boredom with his married sex life and causing Dan to strike up an affair with a waitress. But soon enough, a shocking murder is committed, one that will put Tom and Dan in danger and threaten to destroy their friendship…
I’ll give Gut a lot of credit for what it’s trying to do. It’s a stylish psychological thriller with elements of indie-quirk and “torture porn,” and purely in terms of story and character, it’s a success. It’s not afraid to follow actions through to their logical conclusions, and it doesn’t pull any punches, particularly as the film comes to climax. I like how the film worked with its themes, particularly drawing parallels between sex and violence. (The film starts out with a black screen and panting and moaning on the soundtrack; when we actually get visuals, it turns out that what we’ve been listening to were the throes of murder, not ecstasy.)
While I wasn’t thrilled with what the final twist was implied to be, I respected the filmmakers for remaining somewhat ambiguous about it and not spelling everything out for the audience. (In the final few minutes of the film, two things are strongly implied: first, that Tom believes Dan to be the killer/filmmaker, and second, that Dan probably is the killer/filmmaker–there’s a lot of damning on-screen evidence, and there’s certainly no other character in the film who it could be. But there’s also no onscreen confirmation, either visual or verbal, of these implications.) I had to rewatch the last third of the film to be sure I didn’t miss anything.
However, no matter how good the ideas or the style are, it’s all in the execution. And while there are some real highs in that regard, there’s enough that doesn’t work as well to drag it down a star. The pacing is the worst problem here as some scenes just drag on too long. The running time is an hour and a half, but it would work a lot better if it were cut down to 75. The film’s locations are extremely limited, with only about four groups of sets (Tom’s house, Dan’s apartment, the diner and the office) in use; instead of giving the film a claustrophobic feel, it just gets annoying. The characterization for Tom and Dan is strong, but most of the supporting characters don’t get enough for their actors to work with, and Eve, the pink-haired, tatted-up waitress has too much indie-quirk to be credible. (Although she does get the film’s best line: “What I lack in wrinkled skin and baggy tits, I make up for in personality.”)
On the acting front, Jason Vail (Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies) does a terrific job as Tom. Nicholas Wilder nails the carefree, happy-go-lucky version of Dan, but he has a bit of trouble as the character gets sadder and darker. (It doesn’t help that the character is written almost like a clingy ex in a couple of scenes, and it really doesn’t help that Wilder looks ten years younger than Vail even though their characters were high school classmates.) Sarah Schoofs seems a bit miscast as Tom’s wife Lily–the converse of Wilder, she does well in the dramatic scenes but comes off a bit forced in the more lighthearted one. (And here’s another age difference here, as Schoofs looks a good fifteen years younger than Vail. Not that it can’t be explained away, but it’s still jarring.)
Downsides aside, Gut definitely has enough going for it to make it worth a watch, and the writer/director (the mono-monikered Elias) shows enough potential to make him work keeping tabs on.
My rating: 5 of 10.
90 minutes. Directed by Elias. Starring Jason Vail, Nicholas Wilder, Sarah Schoofs.