Relationships are a fascinating and pervasive element of the human experience, making them the subject of so many songs, books, TV shows, and films...
...They consume our waking thoughts and, no matter where we are in life, it’s valuable to examine ourselves in the context of others’ lives. This examination can be a mirror or may come with a sigh of relief, but the truth is no one knows anything. Our ideas of romance, partnership, and love are defined by the media we consume, the stories we are told, and ultimately the narratives we create for ourselves in our head. It Cuts Deep, the feature-length debut by writer/director Nicholas Santos, is a perfect reflection of the awkwardness that can come in a relationship that is on the cusp of either ending or moving into something more serious. It is the central theme of the film that has the trappings of the mystery/thriller genre; at the core, it’s the tale of two characters at crossroads. Being told through a horror lens only heightens a journey that is otherwise entirely familiar.
It Cuts Deep is the story of Sam (Charles Gould) and Ashley (Quinn Jackson), a couple at very different stages of their lives. Ashley wants to start talking about marriage and having children. Sam wants things to stay as they are and the ideas of marriage and kids scare him, though he does take the step of inviting her to his childhood home for Christmas. While there, Sam and Ashley run into Sam’s old friend Nolan (John Anderson) who Sam wants nothing to do with; a scenario that adds even less clarity to Ashley’s world. Eventually, they agree to have dinner with Nolan and then things become murkier for the couple who now have to deal with Sam’s fractured and dark relationship with Nolan and Nolan’s attempt to split them up. Nolan at one point tells Sam point blank that he intends to break up the couple so he can be with Ashley. There is an uneasy tension that builds and builds until the shocking revelation and chaos that ends the film.
A film this small in scope is only as good as its performances and dialogue, and the three leads deliver in spades. Gould plays Sam with the most awkward and nervous energy, appearing he can’t believe someone like Ashley would ever want to be with him, let alone for this long of a time. This is exemplified in a scene early on in the film when he is choking while at the dinner table and falls to his knee. Ashley assumes he is doing this as a way to propose to her and watching Gould try to backtrack is both hilarious and unnerving. This highlights the clever scriptwriting by Santos, but the aplomb with which the scene plays owes itself to the exceptional nature of Gould’s bumbling portrayal. Quinn Jackson does wonders as Ashley, who in every moment simultaneously cannot stand Sam and is madly in love with him. She just wants him to grow up and there is an ease in the way she maintains a grace about her even as things become progressively more strange. It’s a subtle performance that deserves accolades. She essentially acts as the straight man to Gould’s and Anderson’s over the top characters. Speaking of Anderson, his performance of Nolan is the more unsettling of the two actors. His disconcerting presence is felt from the first time he runs into Sam and Ashley and escalates as he becomes increasingly unhinged and antagonistic towards Sam. He also has wonderful chemistry with Jackson. Even though his character is off-kilter, Sam’s worries feel very valid. Each actor is up to the task of telling the story and it’s the only way such a character-driven piece shines.
This being Santo’s first foray into feature-length filmmaking is a welcome addition to his career of producing many other wonderful oddities, including this year’s brilliantly disturbing Uncle Peckerhead. Santos has a wonderful sense of “outsider” entertainment and it is on full display in It Cuts Deep. His script is as disquieting in the little moments as it is in its glorious and intense finish. This is a film made by, and for, low budget genre enthusiasts who don’t want cookie-cutter narratives. It also allows the viewer into the headspace of its three leads and, while it presents a very uncomfortable viewing experience at times, it works wonders in every sense of the word.
It Cuts Deep proves the ties that bind us can also be our undoing. This is a film not to be missed.
It Cuts Deep is now on VOD/Digital from Dark Sky Films.
By Justin Drabek