Horror comedy is tough to do, this much we know. For every Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil, there’s a Cabin In The Woods. The phenomenally well-titled Cut Shoot Kill doesn’t reach the heights of the former, but it’s not as smug or downright dull as the latter, so it’s mostly a win. The film it most closely resembles is Sadik 2, a similarly scrappy but slight genre offering that worked better as a meta commentary than an actual horror movie.
Our heroine is Serena Brooks (a super-likeable Alexandra Socha), a NYC-based actor who keeps getting bumped for Shailene Woodley. When the call comes in to shoot Alabama Chapman’s–“that can’t be his real name!” one character exclaims–feature debut in the middle of nowhere, Serena is understandably skeptical. She hates horror movies. And this doesn’t sound legit.
Eventually, though, she agrees to do it because, well, she needs the work (and to get away from her suddenly overbearing boyfriend). Once on set and with virtually no connection to the outside world, Chapman’s desire to keep things as “real” as possible is revealed in increasingly bloody ways. And it’s up to Serena to figure out what the hell is going on in time to save her own skin.
It’s a nifty premise rife for blood-and-guts mayhem and the dismantling of slasher movie cliches. Writer-director Michael Walker is clearly a horror fan and takes great delight in puncturing Serena’s dismissal of the genre via other characters. And, to his credit, everybody present seems to be as committed to Cut Shoot Kill as they are to the film-within-the-film.
The commentary on actors being pushed to extremes for their art is well-judged and definitely topical, in this world of DiCaprio winning an Oscar for braving the cold and Day-Lewis living in a hut without electricity for six months to accurately portray an American president. Serena is right to fight back, and we get behind her easily, but the story doesn’t know where to go from there.
Walker clearly has a lot to say about horror as a genre, and the perils of independent film-making, so it’s disappointing the horror elements of Cut Shoot Kill are so weak. The killer’s identity is never a mystery (a cardinal sin for slasher movies) so there’s nothing really moving the story forward once it becomes clear what’s really going on (and even that doesn’t take long).
Add to this the fact the characters are all (understandably) archetypes so we never fully get to know any of them outside of Serena, the director (with 17 shorts to his name!), who looks distractingly like Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, and a maybe kindly/maybe not hillbilly dude. The film crew is peppered with weirdos and eccentrics (two of them play banjos almost constantly), which is nice to see, but they all sort of blend into each other.
To be fair to Cut Shoot Kill, it’s shot very well, the FX are pretty great all round and the assembled cast sell the hell out of it. The film-within-the-film is a bit pretentious and silly, but it’s also charming and knowingly so. The ending is clever too, with Walker clearly clamouring for a sequel (hopefully starring Socha and her super-cute Ramona Flowers hair again). And who could really blame him?
If the horror elements were as spot-on as they have to be, to sell us on this kind of meta-slasher premise, Cut Shoot Kill might have been an all-timer. As it stands, the flick has a load of heart, buckets of blood, and plenty to say about budget film-making, but not much more besides. As with Sadik 2, it survives on its gumption alone. Hopefully Walker will knock it out of the park in Part 2.
Cut Shoot Kill hits VOD on August 8, 2017 via Freestyle Digital Media
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Director(s): Michael Walker
Writer(s): Michael Walker
Stars: Alexandra Socha, Alex Hurt, Phil Burke, Lexi Lapp
Release: August 8th, 2017 (VOD)
Studio/ Production Co: Call Sheet Films
Length: 98 minutes