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Main Cast: Jason Vail, Nicholas Wilder, Sarah Schoofs
I have to admit that I’m a little wary of horror movies – especially those produced outside the mainstream. Somehow, Gut Postermy presumption has always been that they’re going to be excessively gory or voyeuristic or sadistic or…excessively something. Something nasty that I don’t want to see. I’m always delighted to be proven wrong. The most definitely outside the mainstream film Gut is none of those things and is, in fact, both pretty scary and thought provoking without being preachy. Top that, mainstream.
Gut is primarily about the relationship between two men – Tom (Jason Vail) and Dan (Nicholas Wilder). Tom reminds me of a cross between the brooding characters of David Boreanaz and John Krasinsky from The Office. Dan is the prototypical single guy who hasn’t moved on from high school and wishes his now married buddy was still around for beer-and-movie nights. The two work in the same stultifying office and Tom is growing ever more frustrated, bored and unhappy. He and his wife begin to make plans to leave NYC and relocate upstate with their young daughter. Dan finds out. Dan is sad.
Dan comes up with a plan to spend some quality time with Tom before the move. He gets his hands on an underground horror flick knowing that horror movies are Tom’s weakness – the two have been watching them together for years. What he gets is unexpected – a scene of a man cutting open a woman’s stomach and placing his hand inside the wound. Gross? Yes. But not onscreen for more than a few moments. The focus is on the reaction of the two men watching. Dan is the more wide-eyed and open, wanting to talk about whether Tom thinks it’s real. Tom is clearly fascinated but embarrassed and disgusted by his own interest. He flees.
That first movie is followed by another and soon both men are in over their heads. Tom is far too into these things for his comfort (or ours); he’s distancing himself from his wife and is (reasonably) ashamed to tell her the truth. Dan is enjoying having his friend around again, but it isn’t turning out as he hoped – this buddy bonding isn’t as sweet as he expected. He’s sort of into the movies, but isn’t as troubled by his reaction to them – it seems more on the surface, something he’s pretending so he can be like Tom. As you might expect, despite Tom’s pleas otherwise, the obsession with the films does not end and things do not simply go back to their pleasant but boring previous routine. They’re in too far for that.
Gut looks at forbidden obsessions and what they cost. Dan is obsessed with finding a way to be the primary focus in Tom’s life. Tom is obsessed with what may well be snuff films. Though it’s impossible to agree with the paths they take, the emotions behind those actions feel real in a way that mainstream hack-n-slash always misses. The gore and violence tinged with nudity and sex are not nearly as gruesome as you might think from the descriptions. The underlying current of sexual satisfaction derived from violence is there, but tempered by self-loathing and a restraint on the part of director Elias (yep, just one name – douchey, but so be it) that mostly keeps those scenes from turning into repulsive voyeurism. There’s no lovingly filmed or creepy lingering on the misogyny – it’s just there, part of the horror.
And horror it is, despite the lack of jump scares, zombies or mass murders. The horror is in the eyes of this seemingly average man being compelled by these gruesome, completely unacceptable images. Tom is a married man, with a wife and daughter he loves – what is the matter with him, why doesn’t he stop? What is it that makes him keep going back to something that he knows is destroying his marriage and creating a nightmare in the rest of his life? Watching him wrestle with his shame, guilt and uncontrollable need to watch what he knows is wrong gives the movie its emotional resonance. As things spiral out of control, the horror is in the knowledge that he brought everything on himself and has no one else to blame.
Gut is a spare, controlled film. The score is minimal and discordant – something I despise. It fits the ambiance of this film, but I still find it screechingly unpleasant and unnecessary. I don’t need chirpy, happy music, but please, something that doesn’t make my ears bleed, please? The performances are decent. Though neither leading actor has a vast filmography, both do a nice job. Vail has the harder task as the conflicted Tom but Wilder does a great job as the desperate and clingy nerd friend who will go to great measures to relive the past. The rest of the very small cast is only just adequate. Sarah Schoofs as Tom’s wife tends to be more than a little wooden in her delivery. But she has amazingly awesome hair, so that helps.
Overall, Gut is definitely not going to be for everyone. The obsession over sexually tinged maybe-snuff films will gross out a large portion of the mainstream audience before the film even gets a chance to begin. And rightly so – this is a small, niche film for non-mainstream horror fans willing to get into the meta-world of a film about non-mainstream horror movies. For what it is it’s thoughtfully conceived, well produced and shows unexpected depth for the genre. 2 stars out of 5 for general audiences – 4 stars out of 5 for its particular niche, 3 out of 5 stars from me.