‘Gut’ opens with a sudden act of violence with a murder being committed. We hear the diegetic sound of difficult breathing and choking as someone’s life slips away from them playing over the opening credits against a black background. Fading in to a close-up shot, we see a man with blood splattered all over his shirt on the floor of a room leaning over this person strangling and/or suffocating them. The title card then comes up against the same black background after which we are introduced to this attacker who turns out to be one of the film’s protagonists as we get a look at his family life as he leaves for work in the morning. We the audience do not know when the opening shot takes place in the narrative.
The man’s name is Tom (Jason Vail) and he is seemingly happy with his wife Lily (Sarah Schoofs) and their little daughter Katie. In the next scene in his office workplace, we are introduced to his best friend and co-worker Dan (Nicholas Wilder) who has his workspace right next to Tom’s. We then see them sitting at a table in a local diner they frequent for their lunch breaks. It is here that we learn that Tom and Dan have been close friends since childhood and are both big horror movie fans as Dan tries to persuade Tom to come over to his place that night for a marathon of the said genre. We also learn that Tom is in fact actually dissatisfied with the way life is going for him and Dan is unhappy that they do not hang out anymore as Tom always has commitments to his family. Dan has yet to really grow up and move on in life and is single living in a small apartment and cannot except the fact that Tom and him are out growing each other. Dan eventually gets up and leaves in anger at Tom’s refusal to go over to his to partake in their horror fanboyism, as Tom has to spend time with Lily and Kate.
Back in Tom’s house that night, we discover that not all is well in the bedroom department as he has become un-attracted to Lily. The next sequence depicts the gruesome murder of a woman while being filmed - the making of a snuff film. Lights, Camera, Action! Shot from the back of the woman who is lying down on her right side and is presumably gagged she whimpers in fear as a man whose face is off camera wearing surgical gloves gently strokes her stomach before cutting it open with a scalpel. He takes off his left glove and reaches in and as he starts to feel around her stomach, we hear the queasy inducing sound of squelching.
As Tom and Dan grow further apart, Dan finds out from Lily that Tom and she have been planning to move out of the city. Upset by Tom not telling him, Dan confronts him that night. The next day when things have cooled down, they talk about it further in the diner and working it out the two starts to get along again. Later the next day, Dan invites Tom around to his place to watch something very special horror wise the likes of which he promises Tom that he has never seen before. This time Tom accepts his invitation. It turns out to be the very same kind of piece of snuff seen earlier. Disgusted by what he has seen, Tom asks Dan where he got it from and he tells Tom that he ordered it online from an underground horror movie site. Tom then storms out.
Tom cannot get the horrific yet strangely sexual images of what he saw out of his head and starts to obsess fantasising about similar scenarios. Disturbingly, this much improves his sex life with Lily as he lusts for his perverse desires. Dan receives another disc in his PO Box that according to him he had ordered before they viewed the first. Together they sink deeper into their obsession with the snuff material. Tom starts to see horrifying images of the stomachs of his wife and daughter cut open. Matters are escalated to their extreme when Sally the waitress from the diner that Dan fancies goes missing after they have been seeing each other for a short while. When Dan has not turned up to work for two days Tom seeks him out at the diner where Dan tells him that Sally is dead. Going to Dan’s apartment they watch the snuff film of Sally’s demise that Dan says he just found in his PO Box and hadn’t of ordered saying that the maker and unseen star of the snuff works is stalking him. It is from here that we just do not know what to believe with a whole load of red herrings thrown in questioning whom the killer really is. Is it Tom or Dan or is there actually a mysterious psychopath playing with their lives?
Writer and director Elias’ approach to telling his story is that of a minimalistic one keeping in mind here the limitation of the low budget he had to work with. He gets the most out of it executing expertly the quiet slow burn of a pitch perfect paced understated psychological character study that manages to come off both erotic and creepy at the same time and draws parallels with the sexual body horror of David Cronenberg’s masterful ‘Videodrome’ (1983). There are many key tense moments sprinkled throughout and the character development is layered thick with equally strong performances and chemistry from the two leads Vail (Tom) and Wilder (Dan) bringing this believably to life with characters that are easily identifiable and relatable and delivering sharp biting dialogue. It is a strikingly good-looking movie and its low-key subtle musical score enhances the emotional impact of the story and gradually grows intense along with the increasing extremity of the sordid events.
The sequences of the stomach cutting murders are very well staged with the special make-up effects top notch and there is plenty of blood and female nudity to be had here throughout the runtime. If the film has one shortcoming though, it is its unsatisfying climax with an ambiguous abrupt ending leaving it up to the viewer to decide what really happened. Instead of being interesting, it feels more of a cheat and a cop out disappointing us when we have been so invested in the engrossing story for a near 90-minutes.
However, while not perfect ‘Gut’ is a solid intelligently complex character driven piece that raises questions with its sub-text about manhood and sexual fantasies and might force male viewers to question their own masculinity and desires. This is well worthy of your time as it is a real punch to the "gut". I am looking forward to seeing the future work of Elias a very talented writer and director.
*** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
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