Directed by: Christian Alvart
Run time: 132 minutes
The Lowdown: There was a time, not so long ago, when movies could be big and dumb and packed with contradictions and implausible scenarios, and yet somehow still entertain.
But it’s been a good long while since I can recall coming across a movie so ambitious, so ‘look-at-me’ crafty and so desperate to evoke that sense of nostalgia for the big blockbusters of the 1990’s.
The fact that it’s a serial killer thriller, and not a bombastic action opus, is even more reason to cheer, at least for much of its runtime.
Welcome to Cut Off.
This German thriller, released overseas in 2018 as Abgeschnitten, is finally being shared with U.S. audiences by Dark Sky Films, and while I can’t proclaim that Cut Off is the best movie you’ll ever see, I can attest that you will not be bored and you most certainly will be entertained.
The film tells the story of Dr. Paul Herzfeld (Moritz Bleibtreu), an esteemed medical examiner, who also happens to be a workaholic, which has strained his relationship with his daughter.
Over the course of a fateful day, however, Herzfeld will find an old controversial case come back to life, and his cunning and skill tested like never before, as he races to save his daughter from a depraved serial rapist who torments his victims to the point that they commit suicide to avoid being abused any further.
Cut Off is not subtle. It’s brash, bloody and wholly transparent about its desire to emulate past genre classics like The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. Whether it manages to top those shining examples of serial killer cinema will depend entirely on each individual viewer.
For me, personally, the answer is a resounding, ‘No,’ even if I admire many of its efforts.
When Cut Off is most effective, however, it finds ample fuel by tweaking established genre conventions in fresh, surprising ways.
Nowhere is this more evident than with Herzfeld’s unwitting ally, Linda, a young woman who discovers a corpse on the beach of the residential island where she is stranded due to a massive storm.
There’s a whole backstory with Linda that feels superfluous, but director Christian Alvart, working from a novel by Sebastian Fitzek and Michael Tsokos, has fun with a character who finds herself elbow-deep in Autopsy 101 while taking direction by phone from Herzfeld.
Much like Lambs and Se7en, Cut Off establishes its killer, or killers, as Machiavellian to a fault, prone to inserting clues inside bodies in truly elaborate – maybe too much so – fashion.
When Cut Off miscalculates, or over-reaches, it can be jarring for viewers. There are so many red herrings, so many subplots, so many puzzle pieces that have to be located, that the ease with which certain sequences come together feels improbable, at best.
Cut Off also is about 20 minutes too long, and nowhere is that more evident than with the unnecessary and over-the-top twist following what should have been the film’s conclusion.
Any student of horror, any purveyor of serial killer thrillers, can see what’s coming, which effectively neuters the big ‘surprise’ long before it devolves into an outlandish bit of action hoo-ha that feels tacked on simply to bolster Cut Off’s ambitious bid to be memorable.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Yes.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – Yes.
Bad Guys/Killers – A pretty sick sumbitch.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Relic (IFC Midnight, 89 minutes, R, Video-on-Demand): The advance buzz for Relic, the feature-length debut from writer-director Natalie Erika James, was deafening.
And rightfully so, to a point.
As someone who has dealt with loved ones succumbing to dementia, James’ central story about a mother and daughter visiting a secluded, overgrown mansion packed with memories, history and too many well-placed shadows and hidey holes immediately set my skin to itch with dread.
Kay (Emily Mortimer) has long dreaded this visit to check on her mother, Edna (Robyn Nevin), and it’s clear that having her own daughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote), at her side is a source of immediate comfort.
Relationship dynamics play a big part of Relic’s central tug-of-war, just as unspoken secrets, past grievances and regret color in the spaces where time and the elements have ravaged both Edna’s memory and the foundation of her estate.
James is masterful when it comes to allowing Edna’s home as a fourth participant in the proceedings. Houses hold energy. They can reek of neglect, of pain, of anger. And James does a wonderful job just putting viewers in a place where their own imaginations can run wild and play tricks.
But there comes a point around the launch of Relic’s third act that I found myself unexpectedly detached instead of fully engrossed.
For some reason, my mind wandered to Hereditary, which bears little similarity to Relic at all, but Ari Aster’s fantastic debut did tread in similar waters as far as painful family secrets turning deadly once exposed to the light.
And, whereas with Hereditary, I found myself all-in when that movie dived deep into demonology, I kept resisting Relic’s steady turn toward the supernatural and phantasmagorical.
I honestly don’t know why.
This I know, James is an amazing talent who has a true knack for bridging the divide between reality and dark fantasy. The early hype was earned, and I’m exited to see what she does next.
As for Relic, I definitely plan on revisiting this one on a different night, when I’m in a different head-space. I think many viewers will love it, and I’m confident that I too will fall into that camp upon a second viewing.
The Beach House (Shudder, 88 minutes, Unrated, Shudder): The latest Shudder exclusive to hit the dynamic horror streaming service, The Beach House, should be better, but watching Jeffrey A. Brown’s feature debut, you can sense the film’s desire to be bigger and bolder, more terrifying, than it is.
The Beach House is yet another entry in a burgeoning subgenre of horror where so much more is implied than what transpires on screen in front of you eyes.
Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) are a young college couple struggling to decide if they still fit together like the puzzle pieces they once were. Emily is all about her marine biology studies; Randall made the rash decision to drop out of school to learn more from life.
They sneak off to his family’s beach house to rekindle what sparks remain, only to discover that family friends, Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryann Nagel), are already using the property for a getaway.
As the two couples from different generations struggle to find common ground through edibles, something is happening outside along the shore and throughout the sea vegetation in the coastal dunes.
You have to listen carefully, and intently, to Brown’s script to decipher clues as Emily offers a crash course in organic aquatic creation over dinner. The problem is that unless you know in advance that this one sequence is all you’re going to get by way of explanation, it’s likely you’ll miss the important high points.
Before long, weird things are happening. Beach neighbors are changing, possibly evolving, into gelatinous beings that resemble an evolutionary relative to The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Humanoids from the Deep.
The problem with The Beach House is that once Brown’s script kicks into conventional horror tropes – Emily and Randall flee a pervasive mist, they break into a nearby home to use the phone, something bad is wrong with Randall – there’s no time for more exposition, more explanation, more examination of just what the hell is happening.
Unlike other, for lack of a better term, mumblecore horror classics like It Follows, where just a little more information goes a long way, The Beach House feels full of yearning, a new species fighting to be noticed, yet not quite fully formed.
It’s interesting to look at, but you don’t quite know exactly what you’re seeing.
Inferno of Torture
Blood and Money
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Parallax (The Primal Group, 112 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Writer-director Michael Bachochin’s new thriller, Parallax, is a science-fiction head screw that challenges even the most resilient viewers to not turn away.
For me, it took everything I had just to make it to my normal 30-minute window, that point where something, anything, interesting has to happen or else I’m tuning out and turning off.
In this case, I ended up fast-forwarding all the way to the end, just because I had to know, and ironically, the ending is much better than the setup.
Basically, Parallax is about a young woman who wakes up in a life she doesn’t recognize with a man who is fully committed to her even though she treats him like a stranger.
There’s a bunch of hooey about dreams and drowning and most of the characters seem just a smidge off, like they’re a facsimile of themselves that didn’t quite fully copy all the way to the edge of the paper.
There’s a reason for that, but again, to get to that reason, you have to endure an interminable amount of very little happening, which is a shame. It’s clear Bachochin has a lot on his mind, I just wish he’d found a better (and quicker) way to say it.
Parts Unknown (Wild Eye Releasing, 113 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): It’s nearly impossible to know exactly what to say about Parts Unknown, a ridiculously over-the-top mashup of professional wrestling and occult horror.
Filmed in 2018, this low-budget indie is finally getting out to a mass audience courtesy of Wild Eye Releasing, but its target demographic is tough to gauge.
For wrestling fans, the film, which focuses on a crazy clan of Texas rasslers known as the Von Strasser family, looks meant to capitalize on the name recognition and historical wrestling love of the Von Erich family, which saw six brothers from Texas join the sport. Only one of them is still alive, providing a cautionary tale about the out-of-control experience that fame and international celebrity brings.
The problem is that the “wrestling” on display throughout Parts Unknown is basement-level at best, focusing on independent pro circuits that book space in local community centers or VFW halls.
For hardcore horror fans, Parts Unknown lays heavy into the gore, but the special effects, which include throats ravaged by barbed wire, nipples shredded by shears and a razor-blade studded strap-on, only serve to showcase the movie’s budgetary constraints.
And then there’s the actual plot, which focuses on Hermann Von Strasser (William DeCoff), the patriarch who makes his living performing extreme matches. After killing a jobber in the ring, Hermann gets released on bond and is visited by a strange demon creature in a dank bayou that demands blood sacrifices.
Right, it’s that kind of movie.
By this point, you already know if Parts Unknown is for you, which is good, because it wasn’t for me, and I ended up fast-forwarding through the last hour-plus.
Not to be Overlooked:
New Releases for June 23, 2020
A Good Woman is Hard to Find (Film Movement, 97 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Don’t miss one of the best neo-noir thrillers to be released in years. And click here to read our 4-star review in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.