How much (or how little) does it take to push you to the extremes of who you are? How many unknown places within yourself still exist? How much might you be deluding yourself answering those questions now, taking too much credit for being “normal”? How much of your “gut” feeling is really correct? GUT, the new film written and directed by Elias (from GUT Productions), is a story that makes people ponder just such questions about their human (or inhuman) condition…if they are honest. Why do people do the extremely strange, sometimes even horribly cruel things they do? Yes, it’s an ancient question for sure, nonetheless intriguing for all times, again and again. It is the lack of answers that, perhaps, makes its relevance linger.
Just this “lack of an answer” is what is, indeed, so truly compelling about GUT. As I watched it, I tried to make sense of it, because I knew there was sense to be made. I knew it was far from just another bloody incision into a series of hapless victims; I knew this shortly within my first viewing of the film. It was only during my second viewing (enjoying it just as much again) that I found a meaning—that is, a meaning for me. Such brazen ambiguity allows the viewer to make it all uncomfortably personal, as all good horror films should allow.
This story of abnormalities gone amok begins in a most normal setting—an office. This office would be as ordinary, mundane, and boring as any other, if not for a particular character making his on-the-job side job that of being the office clown. Making faces, noises, hand gestures, imitations, etc. (while still retaining the discipline to stay at his desk) is what Dan does best, far better than he likely does performing his actual job—a cookie-cutter clerical worker requiring no such personality. Yes, Dan stands out as needed comedy relief, even before we know he’s needed. Anyone doing such a bloody good job of being funny can’t be done without, even in a horror film.
Speaking of office-space comedians, Nicholas Wilder (who plays Dan) does an outstanding job of developing a likeable, easy-to-remember character within just minutes of his appearance, with or without the humor. Wilder portrays Dan, with realism, as a man living a retro-existence, frozen in his past by his own choice—a man in a tragically-flawed life, made comfortable only by his perspective. Dan is an odd fellow, nerdy, awkward, and a misfit by most standards—all harmless (and even trendy) enough these days, until…. Yes, until something happens to test just how far he will go, even when he knows it’s very wrong. Just when you thought I might tell you too much, I won’t.
Next, we have Dan’s best friend (and former fellow nerd buddy), Tom, as an ironic contrast, right across the room, in the same office. Tom is a guy who has, unlike Dan, moved on to more “grown-up” things, or so it appears; he has a wife, a child, and is looking to improve his life and career. But, he’s uncomfortable in his facade, and quickly enough, it shows. Faux shunning his earlier Dan-like life and feigning total detachment from his real self is an art that Tom has nearly perfected. But, again, “nearly” leaves a distance sometimes too much to achieve one’s goal. “Nearly,” again, leaves just enough room for GUT to become just the horror film we expect.
Jason Vail (who plays Tom) easily has the most difficult and complex of role in GUT. Why is Vail’s role more difficult? Simply put, it’s because he portrays a convincing transformation of character, in a role where such realism makes or breaks a movie. Vail shows fear and paranoia in his character, while also revealing an affected guise of normalcy; the overall effect is a quiet creepiness that makes him a monster as well—a monster all the scarier because he is so human and so…ordinary. As Vail plays the part, Tom could be anyone we know–a neighbor, a best friend, our banker, our doctor, or family member. As Vail transforms Tom into something ominous, Tom’s otherwise typical nature becomes all the more effective.
What is it that tempts two susceptible, albeit ordinary men into places they shouldn’t go with such efficiency? Does it begin innocently enough, turning to self-aware, complicit guiltiness all too soon. Or, is there reasonable resistance and inner struggle first? Does the experience compel us to wash our hands, yet again, of all the ugliness of “humanity,” realizing we are a part of it, just as much, as a viewer? Does it deliver the gore fiends fix of blood, guts, and sundry entrails, as all good horror films arguably should? Is it a snuff film we feel comfortable enough watching, only because we know it really isn’t. Since this is, indeed, a horror film, the answer to all the questions could be just what you expect or everything but that. I’ll stop short of revealing too much; but, I’ll skip ahead to highly recommend GUT to see and feel for yourself!
What’s more to watch out for in GUT? Sarah Schoofs! Schoofs plays the part of Lily—Tom’s devoted wife who is more of a wife than Tom deserves. Lily (as played by Schoofs) is the type of woman with whom every man would love to be bound in matrimony. She’s intelligent, a good mother, loves and dotes on her husband despite his obnoxiousness, waits to pamper him whenever he comes home, and yes, is eternally amorous. What greater extreme of devotion and maternal qualities are there to add to a character’s wife, for the effect of making him all the more tragic in under appreciating her? I say none. Schoofs plays her part with outstanding power, leaving her character one to remember rather than forget.
Also worth mentioning is Angie Bullaro. She plays the part of a neighborhood diner waitress, with more character than the role required, all things considered again. Bullaro also gives her role personality not to be forgotten, as the type of waitress every restaurant regular wishes he had. Yes, it is very interesting that, by intention or coincidence, the women in GUT are ideal, as a contrast to the men who are far from it. I tend to think that no such effective contrast could be by less than design—subtle and certainly well done it is!
I must also applaud the original soundtrack by Chad Bernhard, because it so intentionally compliments and develops the crucial mood of the movie. At points, harsh repetetive sounds are omens of impending doom and deterioration that amplify already disturbing visuals. In most scenes, sounds and images actually rival one another for effectiveness, doubling the effect overall. Without Bernhard’s soundtrack, GUT would surely have lacked what made it such a filling feast–for the eyes and ears!
GUT is a great horror film for many reasons. It’s of the rare types that I watch more than once. Why? It’s well-written, well-acted, it affects our senses as if we are there, and yes, it’s also bloody. (For sure, I winced and squirmed more than once myself.) And, most importantly, it’s also intelligent. Yes, amidst the tightly pulled restraints, the wicked cutting tool, the muffled whimpers of fearful victims, the blood, and the all-important sound of flesh neatly severed, we have something that makes us think. And, yet greater, we have a film that makes us continue watching it, as participants, with growing guilt, just like the characters themselves. Yes, GUT is a vicarious experience of sorts that assaults our senses, and makes us evaluate ourselves, at least as an impulse, in the end. It’s brooding, tense, and voyeuristic, giving us that oh-so-personal fly-on-the-wall feeling. However, as viewers, we’re the fly who doesn’t want to leave.
GUT is also a great horror film, because it does, very effectively, more with less, more than one time. I’m thinking of a particular scene where a victim is, shall we say, cut. Although we see no incision, the muffled cries and quivering of a victim seen in profile, followed by gurgling and blood flowing as a highlight across cold steel, are indeed enough to make the highest-ranking horror hound stop and take notice. Although we do not see the cut, we have everything else we need to see so much more. I, for one, saw a lot more and considered it a masterful example of the art…of filmmaking, that is. At Space Jockey Reviews, an award is in order for this scene alone!
Now, does all this lauding over less is more mean that more cannot be just as good? No, of course not! And, GUT does indeed have its equally-effective moments of more (as is seen in the gut-slit movie still above). Yes, for all of you looking more, GUT will deliver the goods for you, as well.
As the title suggests (and as you see above), GUT is a very visceral film, literally! It gives new meaning to the expression “gut feeling”—adding fresh, bloody depth to an old cliche. GUT also explores, among other things, the sublime significance of perversity—the meaning beneath the surface, deep within ourselves and others. Figuratively, it’s all fine; literally, it can be quite a problem. In GUT, “gut feelings” could also be gut deceptions, meant to hide and protect us from ourselves—meant to protect us from truly feeling others…and having others feel us. For that, I’ll keep my fingers crossed!
Original review located here: