(This review was originally published on November 14, 2012 at Reel Film News)
If my friend became obsessed with a mysterious DVD that showed up in his mailbox, a potentially authentic depiction of a woman being eviscerated, I might be inclined to part ways with him, at the very least. I’m just saying.
“Gut” begins by creating a prickly sense of unease, but weighs itself down with unnecessary space, leaving plenty of time for us to ponder its overall lack of logic. It’s one of those films that made me question whether or not I’d missed something vital during the character development.
The lapses in reason don’t detract entirely from the films sense of anxiety, but it never really evolves beyond that; a sense of malice, an unseen antagonist, an unknown motive. Tom (Jason Vail) is a family man on perpetual auto-pilot, essentially coasting through his dead-end job and going through the motions at home with his wife Lily(Sarah Schoofs) and their young daughter Katie (played by twins Kirstianna and Kaitlyn Mueller). He’s happy but in a rut. His horror-obsessed friend and co-worker Dan, played by an appropriately creepy Nicholas Wilder, is fighting the emotional distance that Tom is subtly trying to wedge between them. His remedy for their faltering friendship? A horror movie night and some beers.
Despite more red flags than May Day, everything goes downhill after the two guys repeatedly watch the video (which looks like a recording of an unsolicited surgery). Why this thing doesn’t get resolved immediately is beyond me, and I’m a master at suspending my disbelief. Don’t worry, no spoilers here.
Punctuating its creepy, trance-like mood with sparse dialogue and a few gruesome images, this psychological thriller doesn’t have enough substance to sustain a feature-length film, as Tom begins to experience a vaguely painted battle of emotions. At a brutally languid pace, it is likely to challenge your patience between ‘relevant’ scenes, which are mainly intermittent viewings of the video, as well as subsequent selections(which seem to be originating from some sadistic NetFlix Queue) and bouts of insipid small-talk that never approaches much of a realistic solution.
Here’s the up side: while most horror films these days revel in excess, this one attempts an almost static level of suspense. It leaves the audience largely to their imaginations, and often evokes a heavy sense of anxiety while these images, graphically depicted in a few convincing close-ups, are allowed to fester to Chad Bernhard’s unsettling score. Cerebral genre fans will appreciate what I think writer/director Elias is trying to accomplish here; its slow build-up will most likely appeal to those who prefer plenty of room to analyze and interpret. It certainly had me expecting a considerably more creative outcome than what we end up with.
With some tweaking, Elias might have had something considerably more frightening on his hands. Where “Gut” differentiates itself, namely its prolonged silences and lingering frames, is also its weakness. It’s a style that stalls while trying to avoid gimmicky filmmaking, without the payoff that might have made it all worthwhile.
“Gut”, which screened at this year’s Spooky Movie Horror Film Festival, is in limited release in New York City and available on VOD.
If you’re a horror buff, watch it at home with a like-minded date, not a group.
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