"Director's Cut" may be one of the most intelligent horror films of the year, and it's time to admit it
2018 has, by far, been one of the best years for horror. Ever. Love them or hate them, films like Suspiria, Halloween, Hereditary, A Quiet Place, and so many others, have blown the box office wide open and stolen the hearts of fans everywhere. It’s a great time to be a part of the horror family. But it also means that, with so many movies terrifying viewers, it can be easy for smaller indie-gems to get lost in the spotlight. One that we need to stop overlooking is Director’s Cut…
…Produced by Clink Productions and distributed by Epic Pictures/Dread Presents (who have been doing a phenomenal job with the genre this year), Director’s Cut is a little film directed by Adam Rifkin (“Wadzilla” segment from Chillerama) with a script from Penn Jillette (Penn and Teller Get Killed). The film is a sometimes chilling, always entertaining look at crowdfunding which concerns Herbert Blount (Penn), an aspiring director who crowdfunds a film and, obsessed with the lead actress, Missi Pyle (playing herself), decides to hijack a cut of the film and make his own movie out of it. Director’s Cut is essentially-get ready-a film within a film within a film about crowdsourcing and is in fact also crowdfunded itself. It’s okay, everyone’s brain explodes the first time hearing that.
The film is heavily meta, treated as a real director’s cut with Blount providing commentary/narration, where everyone but Penn is playing themselves, including what seem to be actual crowd funders. This in and of itself provides a consistently humorous tone, as Blount’s point of view is exceptionally warped and flat out wrong (the way voiceovers should be), and there’s something fun about seeing Lin Shaye referred to as the “lady from Insidious” while playing a foul-mouthed badass cop. It’s not the meta presentation, however, that has me wondering if everyone’s still too drunk off of big-screen horror successes to be talking about what should be considered one of the most intelligent genre films of the year.
Director’s Cut is a fascinating mix of the celebration of filmmaking and a frightening deconstruction of the evolution of film, most specifically, crowdfunding. Rifkin and Penn clearly have a love for movies in the way their film easily slides between different genres and styles throughout Director’s Cut, such as horror, comedy, found footage, action, etc,. And while they are not in any way demonizing crowdfunding (again, the film itself is crowdfunded and shows appreciation towards donators), they are taking a hard look at the face of the movie-making beast which has taken over cinema, and it isn’t particularly pretty.
It all starts with Blount. Blount, in a lot of ways, encapsulates just about every struggling filmmaker. He believes he has talent and is desperate to prove himself and finally get the recognition he thinks he deserves. However, most starving artists like myself would not go to the lengths which Blount does. I sort of draw a line at the whole kidnapping thing. But Blount, who is masterfully portrayed by Penn, doesn’t see it that way. There is no limit to the extent in which his mind is able to fool itself.
See, Blount has tricked himself into believing he is a real-life filmmaker. And to his credit, he’s quite knowledgeable on the subject. Blount, while not even an average at best filmmaker, has a keen understanding of the nature of film, though you could also say it’s more of a love for it than anything. Either way, Blount points out interesting facets of today’s film culture, telling the audience that these days, you don’t need film school, because between commentaries, interviews, and behind the scenes videos, filmmakers are always sharing how to do what they do. He also believes that no one has to work hard to become an actor anymore, since you can just pay to be in movies now, thanks to crowdfunding perks. He’s not exactly accurate, but he’s not a hundred percent wrong either. Thanks to social media and crowdfunding, filmmakers and their work have become much more accessible to the average fan who wants in some way to become a part of it all. A good comparison for an actual, less psychotic version of Blount would be director Tommy Wiseau (The Room), notoriously a bit of a madman on set who was able to do what he did simply because of one thing: Money. He had the money to make a movie, so he did.
Blount is the same way. He has money, and since he is obsessed with movies and actress Missi Pyle, he decides to pay to get onto her new movie set. But he doesn’t just pay to get some one-liner that will get cut in the final edit. He buys the largest package he can get, which labels him as a “producer”. Producing is a funny word. The general public often doesn’t have much understanding of what the “producer” title really means, and it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say a lot of those in the film world, at least the rookies, don’t get it either. Blount is one of those people. He assumes that because he gets to be labeled a “producer”, he has some kind of ownership over the film and everyone else involved. And herein lies the thematic core of the strange, strange world which film has evolved into: The Crowdfunder.
Indie filmmakers would all agree that crowdfunding has become an essential part of the business these days. Hell, even Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) just released a LONG list of unproduced films which he has waiting around, and if a guy who fans would consider to be one of the modern voices of genre culture can’t get his movies made, what hope do the rest of us schmucks have in asking some moneybags executive for a little extra cash to make our movies for, you know, just a few million or so, no big deal. Please sir, may I have some more? Crowdfunding is actually a wonderful way to connect fans and filmmakers, especially because fans know that when they support a film this way, they know the final product will be closer to the director and writer’s vision, since there are much fewer studio hands in the pie. Still, Blount provides the other side of what should be a harmonious experience. He is, from top to bottom, the epitome of the troubling cost of fame and filmmaking.
Standing over six feet tall and equipped with a frighteningly obsessive persistence, Blount is the product of a darker side of fandom. From the opening titles (which are conveniently scratched out to replace Blount in various roles), to the final unnerving reel, Blount’s “director’s cut” of what is supposed to be a serial killer film is not about that, or the romance he thinks he has between himself and Missi. It is a grimy, squirm-inducing portrayal of madness recut and pasted together for us to see. Throughout Blount’s “cut”, we are treated to one big love letter to Missi. Whether he is slowing her first entrance down to a pace which moves one frame at a time in order to show us how great of an actress she is, or putting pre-take shots of her back in because he wants more of her in the movie, Blount is expressing a disturbing nature of ownership with not just Missi, but the whole damn thing. It’s an inherent danger in crowdfunding that is thankfully not common, but is always present. I mean think about it, how comfortable would you be with Billy Bob travelling all the way from his mom’s basement to hang out on set because he gave you some cash? Nine times out of ten, Billy Bob is a swell dude, but there’s always that chance he could be a maniac like Blount.
Rifkin takes a masterful approach in showing us just how possessive Blount is with the film, without Blount ever having to say so. For example, during a sequence where the audience is actually given answers as to what is happening in the “real” film, the cop film, Blount tells us this is important and doesn’t want us to miss this, then proceeds to talk and chew popcorn over all of the audio. Blount subconsciously does this because that is not HIS movie, and at this point, it’s all about Blount and what HE wants us to see. And, like a lot of filmmakers, Blount has a perfectionist attitude which can often be pretty entertaining in the way he describes the “process”, but veers off into terrifying territory when he begins secretly filming Missi in her hotel room, seeming to suggest that she is totally fine with this, and that this is how he can get the best performance out of her. Of course, as expected, all of this leads to darker territory in which Blount begins forcing Missi to reshoot certain scenes to “improve” the movie.
The funny thing is, Blount’s film ends up being much more fascinating than the ridiculously over the top “true-crime” tale which he helped fund. Which is perhaps most applause-worthy of all. Rifkin and Penn managed to take what could have easily been an overly complicated movie and condensed it into a purposely flawed though digestible piece of art that reflects our current film culture in a way that no other has. Since its release in May, Director’s Cut has not, in my opinion, gotten anywhere near the sort of love which such a successfully compelling, ambitious project deserves. It’s time we acknowledge that, even if Director’s Cut doesn’t end up on whatever pointless Top Ten Horror Films of 2018 list that Vogue puts out, it should be on the radar of every genre fan who loves this weird little thing we call horror, and the exciting though uncomfortable world which crowdfunding has opened up for filmmakers.
Watch Director’s Cut. Tell your friends and family. But if you ever participate in crowdfunding, lets revel in the fact that fans have an opportunity to help visions like this come to life, and don’t pull a Blount, okay?
By Matt Konopka