Christmas is a time of year that is particularly special for children, so it’s fitting that Ashley (Quinn Jackson) would choose that time of year to talk to goofball boyfriend Sam (Charles Gould) about the possibilities of marriage and kids. On a trip to Sam’s hometown over the holidays Ashley attempts to bridge the conversation while Sam continues to make light of things and clown around. When Nolan, (John Anderson) a childhood buddy of Sam’s, runs into the couple and quickly begins to outwear his welcome, new insights into Sam’s childhood come to light and things quickly spiral out of control.
This movie is the feature film debut of writer and director Nicholas Santos (known for his short film Mother F**ker) and he comes out guns blazing with this thing. From the first swing of a machete to the blood soaked finale it never lets up or lets itself get boring. Santos wears his genre influences on his sleeve too, sometimes quite literally. Nolan’s work coveralls evoked Michael Myers and watching the slowly unraveling flashback sequence I couldn’t help but think of Sleepaway Camp.
Unlike some more laughable horror features, however, It Cuts Deep is in on the joke. In between its moments of terror the film balances things out with plenty of dark humor largely provided by Gould whose standup comedy background serves him well as the screwball male lead. I literally laughed out loud as he verbally sparred with a child and father at a public restroom early in the film, and he only gets more unhinged as things progress. Anderson likewise provides laughs as a demented, but handsome, foil to Sam that channels equal parts Ted Bundy and Seann William Scott.
Jackson’s Ashley is the only one playing things straight in this chaotic trio and she guides the audience as the pendulum swings back and forth between Sam and Nolan over who is the most insane. She puts her heart into every scene and gives an emotionally complex performance that inspires genuine concern for her in the face of increasingly strange circumstances. I hope to see more of what she brought to this role in future performances!
Of course the film is not without its imperfections. The production is a little scrappy (the movie was shot at Santos’ parents home in Cape Cod) and there are some minor plot lines that feel unresolved. But for every slight hiccup, there are strokes of filmmaking genius. The use of shadows as Nolan slinks around the yard in a Santa costume, the dark ambient tones weaving through the score side by side with chipper Christmas tunes, cutting on action and knowing when to let the scene breathe so Gould’s lunacy can play out.
It’s all of these little details that make the movie worth your time and attention. If you’re looking for something light to watch after this winter’s screening of Black Christmas, It Cuts Deep will do the trick.