★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Is it real or is it… oh, nevermind.
Oh, modern meta-horror. If only your grandpappy, Wes Craven, were still around to grab you by the ear and give you some much-needed advice. I watched this movie a while ago, took a bunch of notes, and then… nothing. I just couldn’t figure out how to approach the review. If the movie were astonishingly bad or incandescently good, it would’ve been easy. This one, though. I had to think about it. Not that I liked it — as you can tell from the stars rating — I just didn’t know where to start.
It tries. I’ll give it that. Writer/director Michael Walker (Chasing Sleep (2000), Price Check (2012)) does know his business and does many things right. Meta-horror is a slippery beast, though. Do it right and it’s a wonderful thing. That’s where you have your Scream (1996), your Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), your The Cabin In The Woods (2012). Miss the mark, however, and you’re stuck with a Swiss cheese plot and a confused audience. Unfortunately, if Cut Shoot Kill were a deli, Swiss cheese and ham would be their only offering.
The movie centers on aspiring actress, Serena Brooks (Alexandra Socha from TV’s Royal Pains and Red Oaks). She has the opportunity to star in a new horror movie, but isn’t sure she wants to go that route in her career. Her agent supplies her with a short film by the same director, Alabama Chapman (Alex Hurt — briefly from TV’s Grimm, Blue Bloods, etc.), to give her an idea of what she’d be in for. She watches the film, is impressed by the lead actress’ performance and the realistic special effects, and does a bit of her own research. She discovers that the actress in the short film was found murdered… and decides to meet the director.
Alabama’s got a definite burn to make a feature-length film and Serena would be the biggest name in the cast. He comes across as a passionate kook. Serena interprets that in a positive light and agrees to do the movie. Shortly thereafter she’s picked up by a crew member named “iBall” (Jay Devore who’s also had part in TV’s Blue Bloods, etc.) in a converted school bus. She meets two of her cast mates in the bus and the trio is driven out to the middle of nowhere in Spooky Woods, USA.
And here’s where things start to fall apart.
While I’m not a fan of spoilers in reviews, you’re not going to watch this one anyway. Therefore, as if you couldn’t guess, ol’ Alabama and his gang of good ol’ boys have basically been making snuff films. The special effects are so realistic because they’re actually killing the actors they hire to make these films. At one point, the director mentions that he’s made somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 short films. In the one short film we’re shown, two men are killed by the lead actress. If that pattern holds up, we’re talking about at least 34+ dead people who nobody’s noticed. Hey! It could happen, right?
I’ll admit that the blurring of the line between what’s real and what’s the movie-within-a-movie caught me the first time. And, at that point, I thought it was mildly clever. Not original, but it was well done. After that, though, it just gets messy. And not in a good way. Some scenes are obviously part of the overarching movie; especially towards the end. Other scenes leave you wondering. How did they plan for the car to break down right there? Why didn’t she see the guy filming the whole thing or the sound crew holding the mics while the policeman was being murdered? Seriously, is the cameraman invisible?
Not to mention all the contrived set up that went into the production of Alabama’s tour de force. No cell service? Well, okay, it was the middle of nowhere. But to actively chase away the internet service repairman — dooming the entire cast and crew to a disconnected wasteland — and nobody thought that was odd? I’m all for suspension of disbelief, but c’mon.
I can’t say everything about Cut Shoot Kill was off kilter. I actually enjoyed Alexandra Socha’s performance, for one. With something more to work with, she could be one to watch in the future. Also, the effects were decent as well. I do enjoy a movie that embraces practical effects. It wasn’t what you’d call a special effects bonanza, but what they had they did well. I think that side of things actually would’ve actually been stronger if they’d left off the few gory CGI enhancements they had, but hey. Who am I to judge?
Overall, while Cut Shoot Kill may have done its best, it just couldn’t capture the elusive nuances of meta-horror. All we’re left with is a big, steaming cup of… huh?