Directed by: Elias
Two childhood friends, who grew up watching horror and even made their own home made low budget horror films, Tom [Jason Vail], Dan [Nicholas Wilder – who gives an outstanding performance] both work in the same office as adults. They are still friends, but the space between them makes itself painfully apparent at times. Tom never comes over for video nights as much as he used to as he spends most of his out of office time with wife and their daughter. One day Dan manages to lure Tom over for intriguing night of old fashioned horror gawking. The oddity Dan shows Tom is a film he’s obtained over the Internet from an obscure source… With no narrative at all, the film consists of a single shot of a stomach being sliced and a hand stuffed into the cavity.
The shocking amateur surgery [as in Snuff], and the new films which arrive over time, become a perverse pleasure and birth a budding horror as the two men are drawn into a nightmare of obsession and paranoia. When Tom decides that the obsession must stop, Dan reveals that he’s in deeper than the two friends ever could have imagined.
GUT is an intriguing treat. An intelligent and sardonic slow grinder that digs it’s way into the head of its audience. It’s a movie that plays with our basic emotions of not wanting to be alone. It’s also a movie that digs into the emotions anyone who has passed the age of thirty has through at some point in time. Questioning if it’s time to change, raising the subject if this is all there is to life.
Indie films, especially indie horror, are quite often let down through crap characters and shallow portrayals due to the fact that some indie filmmakers chose to aim straight for the shock and awe moments. GUT is quite the opposite, and is all about character, depth and showcases its moments of grotesqueness with a delicate hand. There may not be any Boo moments – which would really be out of place here as this is psychological horror – but it presents some pretty striking scenes of cold steel slicing through soft tender flesh. But that’s not the prime focus of GUT; it’s the Characters that are the center of attention here.
I’m not going to get into the “Snuff tape” discussion, as I really don’t see that element being the main key to the movie. The movie is about the two men, the tape merely a device to set the action in motion. Lead character, Tom could abandon Dan on several occasions after the initial viewing. But his backstory and history with Dan keep him returning to his once friend, even going back to watch a second, and third recording. Without the delicate portrayal of the two leading men, the film would never have had any of the power it holds over it’s audience.
Tom is a regular guy, a normal bloke who doesn’t stand out in any way. The kind we can relate to and empathize with as we can emotionally recognize the thoughts that he’s having as we are introduced to him. He’s stuck in midlife, experiencing something of a crisis. Trapped in existential anguish, what we all know as the mind-numbing monotone routines of life, he’s desperately trying to shape a new life for himself. He’s trying to find that “something” that is missing from his life, even if it means finding a new job in a new city, moving his family and breaking up the at the time somewhat distant relationship he has with childhood buddy Dan.
Dan is a great character. One we can relate to also, but in a completely different way. He’s a dorky horror buff, who wants to explore how far his voyeurism can go. We’ve all been there, we’ve all been part of the cult that used to watch films with our buddies and see who would cringe first. Dan’s problem is only that his Tom has passed that stage of life. We can easily empathize with Dan too, as I’m guessing we all have had that moment when a fellow co-worker asks the guilt ridden question: Why do you watch those stupid movies? Horror’s supposed to be for kids, and we are definitely not supposed to be watching them as adults… but we do.
If I break it down and stick it under the analytic gaze, GUT is a movie about two men and the space that has occurred in-between them. They used to be close, but time and growing up has drawn them apart. With that in hand the events of the film make sense. One could argue that the film is all about how far you would go to keep a relationship. What would you do to cling on to that one best friend you constantly feel slipping away from you?
In some ways the movie is all about the refusal to let go. Dan feels left behind; he’s a loner, an outsider, still in the same position that he was when he and Tom left the same path. It’s apparent that he has a completely different life from Tom, despite working in the same office. The two men are polarized opposites of each other, Tom with family and responsibilities living an adult life, and Dan on the other end still living the life of a kid. Metaphorically that is.
So the inciting incident is found when Tom, somewhat degradingly, asks Dan “Seen any gore porn lately?” and Dan sardonically replies “Oh Better…You have to see this to believe it…” Dan has started his quest to regain his friendship with Tom, and Tom is sent off on his journey as he watches the film Dan has obtained. Both men entangled in the web of the sinister recording.
Tom’s boring life, Dan’s lonely life, and then presents what I say is the initial attack, where the camera almost candidly lingers just below the table which the yet unseen assailant slices up a young woman on. There’s a video camera rigged to the right of frame – obviously taping the scene Dan will receive and show Tom later. Now we know that there’s someone slicing up young women, and it gives us three optional paths of through, Dan, Tom or someone yet to be presented.
The guilt Tom experiences and the projective nightmares drive him to force Dan into a corner. It’s the same guilt that keeps Tom from abandoning Dan there and then. You can’t abandon your oldest friend without feeling guilty. But when cornered Dan breaks down. Reveals truths that completely shatter the rekindled friendship. It also sets the scene for the possible threat of an external part. In easy and intelligent ways, Elias weaves a delicate story with many layers and paths that keep it from being predictable.
Technically the film is beautiful. The cinematography is solid and delivers some great compositions. Editing is flawless. Time has obviously been put down on the soundscape of the film, another area often neglected in Indie genre films, and the sound of the plastic restraining straps clicking tightly into place made the hairs on my arms stand up. There’s a passion to detail in GUT that’s rarely noticed in genre pieces. Timing and pace is worth pointing out as the movie tells a tale that could have been told in a short film form, but is instead disposed at a feature film length. It works and the natural curiosity of wanting to know the truth lures the audience in safe and firm.
Slowly building, taunting its audience, keeping facts and truths hidden in the dark, GUT seeps into some really dark and haunting territory during its last act and definitely builds a really tense noose of suspense before crashing into a devastating reveal. If you get a chance to check out Elias GUT, then take it, as this film may just well become your new obsession…