You know you’re in for a treat when a movie is confident enough to throw out a truly great joke within its first thirty seconds. Deadly Cuts, the debut feature from writer-director Rachel Carey, revolves around a hairstyling competition called Ahh Hair, which is a play on the north Dublin saying “ahh here.” It’s a dumb joke but it’s completely brilliant too, establishing right off the bat that there’s no time to waste when hair is at stake. And, if that particular joke is too area-specific to make viewers outside of Ireland, or maybe even Dublin, laugh, well, there are plenty more where that came from.
Deadly Cuts locates the action in Piglinstown, a fictional suburb of north Dublin whose name may be a reference to long-running Irish soap Fair City, which is set in Carrigstown. On the other hand, it might just be a funny word that sounds a bit like “pigsty.” Both interpretations are funny, which is emblematic of what makes Carey’s film so special – it’s culturally super specific, meaning it will be of particular interest to Irish audiences, but generally hilarious too, ensuring newcomers will still get most of the jokes, even if they don’t really understand why. It’s a bit like Derry Girls in that respect.
And much like Lisa McGee’s beloved TV show, which is sharper and funnier than Father Ted not least because it wasn’t made by a disgusting transphobe – fight me, ‘cause it is – subtitles may be required for those outside Ireland since, well, these are some accents. Happily, the area-specific slang is presented without any self-conscious explanations, Carey utterly committed to placing her story in a context that feels intimately real even if the row of shops in which the titular hairdresser’s is situated looks a bit like a set (it might actually be the Fair City set, to be fair).
Our heroine is Stacey (Ericka Roe), a twenty-something who’s desperate to join her mother in Spain – “it’s full of English!” she’s warned, although that’s not technically true anymore since Brexit (LOL) – and reckons winning Ahh Hair will finally convince Mam she’s worthy. It’s a desperately sad setup that gives the talented performer room to play steely-eyed determination and wobbly-lipped disappointment, often within the same scene. Her boss Michelle (The Commitments’ Angeline Ball) supports Stacey but can’t assist her, due to a devastating prior incident at the show.
Thankfully, Stacey’s colleagues and BFFs Gemma (Lauren Larkin) and Chantelle (Shauna Higgins) are totally behind her, arguably to a fault. They’re a committed group of gals, incredibly likable and fun to spend time with right from the outset. The young actresses gamely deliver Carey’s whip-smart, motor-mouth dialogue while imbuing their friendship with real pathos, so we genuinely care what happens to them. Deadly Cuts takes swipes at everything from toxic masculinity to gentrification, but it’s really about the relationship between these four, working class women.
Local bully Deano (Ian Lloyd Anderson) complicates matters by taking a disliking to the salon and the mouthy women who work in it, feeling they should stay in line rather than cause trouble for him. He enters the shop and brushes his nonexistent hair with one of their styling tools, in a power move that’s also hilariously funny, again emphasizing the fine line Deadly Cuts walks between something jovial like Derry Girls and something that cuts close to the bone, like Calm With Horses (AKA The Shadow of Violence in the States).
Indeed, it’s after accidentally murdering Deano – “is this water all right for ya?” Stacey quips while scalding him – that things begin to change for Deadly Cuts and Piglinstown in general. Suddenly, the townspeople can move about safely and freely. The ladies can prepare for Ahh Hair without worrying about their shop being burned down. But the threat of gentrification continues to loom large, particularly by way of an oily local politician (Darren Flynn), and it soon becomes clear the Deadly Cuts crew will have to make a real statement to affect real change.
Carey’s film is very proudly, overtly feminist. Her cast is almost entirely female, while the villains are predominantly men, the exception being Victoria Smurfitt’s hideous Southsider Pippa. Adopting an aggressively over the top accent, which adds an extra “Y” to every word, Smurfitt winningly sends up her own reputation as a posh snob, backhanding a young charge and widening her eyes until it looks like her pupils might pop in shock at not getting her way. She’s terrific, as is the iconic Pauline McLynn (Mrs. Doyle on Father Ted), who has an absolute ball as a snooty judge at Ahh Hair alongside horrifying creation D’Logan Doyle.
A top-class hairdresser who might actually be a complete fraud, judging by a hilarious sequence involving a supremely dodgy haircut, Louis Lovett’s wacky character is so integral to the plot he gets his own insanely catchy theme song, “D’Logan D’Likes,” which is based around his signature catchphrase. In a film already bursting with laughs, to the extent it practically demands an instant re-watch just to catch all the jokes you missed while you were cackling at something else, it’s remarkable Lovett makes the impact he does, particularly given his limited screen-time. Such is the power of a truly ludicrous character whom everybody blindly worships.
There’s tons of local music used throughout Deadly Cuts which, it probably goes without saying, is a gloriously, even defiantly Irish film through and through. Sadly, it’s been a while since we did something truly funny and lighthearted, since Irish filmmakers tend to specialize in the dark and dreary but, between this and the brilliant Extra Ordinary, there might be a trend emerging for darker-tinged comedies that take place amidst little-seen communities. Extra Ordinary is set in rural Cork, while Carey very purposely places her action in an equally downtrodden area, albeit with more of an emphasis on class disparity.
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The central foursome is underestimated by a cop who thinks they’re incapable of murder, chiefly because they’re women, while an impassioned speech from Stacey at Ahh Hair is genuinely empowering and touching. This is a movie with plenty of heart that doesn’t scrimp on the darker elements and yet neither side overpowers the other. Deadly Cuts’ title hints at this deft balancing act; it’s a reference to another well-known north Dublin phrase – deadly buzz – as well as a description of the great haircuts proffered by the salon and a nod to the literally deadly cuts that get rid of Deano.
A lot of this stuff is incredibly culturally specific, so it’s unclear how well the film will travel. However, it doesn’t necessarily matter since Deadly Cuts will assuredly find an audience at home. Likewise, anyone who can follow Derry Girls, with or without subtitles, shouldn’t have too much of an issue acclimating to a whole other set of uniquely lovely Irish accents. Point being that Carey’s wildly impressive and accomplished debut deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. Charming, heartwarming, hilarious, and impressively dark, the performances are peerless, the script is tight, and the message is surprisingly uplifting. Is féidir linn, indeed.
WICKED RATING: 9/10
Director(s): Rachel Carey
Writer(s): Rachel Carey
Stars: Ericka Roe, Shauna Higgins, Pauline McLynn, Victoria Smurfitt, Angeline Ball
Release date: TBC
Studio/Production Company: O’Sullivan Productions
Run Time: 90 minutes