It’s a story as old as time – woman wants marriage and to start a family, man wants to avoid the topic with an anal joke. That’s our main conflict and crux of 2020’s IT CUTS DEEP, the full-length directorial debut from Nicholas Payne Santos.
While on holiday break, Ashley (Quinn Jackson) is brought to the childhood home of her boyfriend, Sam (Charles Gould). As the beginning shows us, something sinister may be lurking in the background as the couple struggles through talking-but-not-talking about such heavy issues, and Ashley continues to be disappointed by Sam’s lack of commitment.
This all comes to a head when an old friend (John Anderson) makes an appearance back into Sam’s life, and seems to be stalking the unhappy couple. Sam believes his motivation is to steal Ashley away from Sam, or is there possibly another reason…a reason that has been hidden for the last 10 years?
For being on a small budget, there were some pretty good shots in IT CUTS DEEP. Cinematographer Kyle I. Kelley was able to make the film feel stark and claustrophobic, just like “someone with a dying relationship trying to desperately take it to the next level during an isolated holiday vacation” kind of vibe. The special effects (by Jared Balog and Shawn Maloy) were effective and simple. However, I’m surprised it wasn’t more over the top, but we’ll get into that later. Kudos to the solid practical effects in this film.
The score by Owen Evans was minimal, but could get repetitive. I would have liked to hear a more expressive and engaging score, especially with the high tension and build up. Again, I’ll talk about the tone in a minute, which also plays into this. Often it was repetitive and fell flat. It was also a definite missed opportunity to not have any holiday-inspired music, as this was essentially a holiday/Christmas movie. I needed more bells, tubular or not.
Okay, now let’s get to the meat of IT CUTS DEEP. I believe that Charles Gould is funny as a comedian. He has timing and energy. The “fancy-man” bit he did was, I think, the purest moment that I could see that shined through. I think that if the writing and direction were different, he could have done really well as a lovable-loser type. The same note can be made for Quinn Jackson and John Anderson if they were given a more serious film and/or tone to work with. However, the tonal dissonance of the film really drags the whole thing down, including their performances.
There were multiple times in IT CUTS DEEP that I was lost on how I was meant to feel or what reaction the director was aiming for. The commitment-phobe man-child is an easy trope to understand, but it’s harder to understand when we have no emotional connection to the characters, nor motivation offered. For example when Sam begins to act strange, it’s hard for me to know if that’s normal for him or not because I had no previous baseline for who he is or what he wants. I could not know if he was acting his normal self and she was just usually dismissive, or if there was truly something wrong.
The tone switches so often from “comedy” to “drama” to “what the hell is happening?” that it’s hard to get a bead on any character or the world they’re living in. Is what’s happening just quirky or is something amiss? When it switches tone so often and characters are unreliable to glean that information from, it just makes the experience tedious and frustrating.
The “comedy” part never really hit, nor did the “horror”. They both just wavered back and forth without really strengthening each other, as a good horror-comedy should do. I think a large reason for this was the dialogue, which was often talking over each other, repetition of the same word, and dialogue of what sounded like a Jake Peralta fanfic from season two of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”. When the dialogue and/or scene was meant to be serious, it never was fully realized, and I would say the same for the horror scenes, as if the director was pulling his punches. I’d like to see more from Santos and see how he develops as a filmmaker and storyteller, but hope that the next film will have a stronger script and focus. It needs to be more consistent with the tone, acting, and story.
Also, a side note, can we shelve the man-child/hot-woman relationship trope for a while? Adam Sandler has basically epitomized and banked on it since the early 2000s. I’d like to see what other flaws our leading men in comedy can have besides “not wanting to grow up and settle down”. I think we’ve grown up from this trope.
Bottomline, I wouldn’t flip IT CUTS DEEP the bird at a formal family dinner after a series of hilarious misunderstandings, but I also wouldn’t flirtatiously twist my hair behind my ear and laugh at its unfunny jokes. It’s not due for a re-watch.
IT CUTS DEEP is now available in select theaters and on VOD and Digital platforms.