(2012) Directed by Elias; Written by Elias; Starring: Jason Vail, Nicholas Wilder and Sarah Schoofs; Available on Amazon Instant Video
Rating: ** ½
At one point or another, we’ve all probably watched something that we wished we hadn’t. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just take that moment back? But here’s another thing about viewing something that’s profoundly upsetting… How many times did we actually stop watching the offending video, and how many times did we continue to soldier on, out of a reluctance to lose face among our peers or voyeuristic compulsion? Writer/director Elias (Yep, just Elias, like Cher) explores this conundrum in his horror thriller Gut.
Tom (Jason Vail) feels trapped in a general malaise, caught in a quagmire of family life, a dead-end job and a stagnant friendship. He works alongside his best buddy from childhood, Dan (Nicholas Wilder). While Tom has grown up, Dan is stuck in a perennial state of adolescence. Dan can’t understand why his friend doesn’t want to hang out anymore. In an effort to rekindle their dying friendship, he invites Tom back to his apartment to watch a DVD he procured through a shady website. Perhaps out of a desire to escape his family, or the promise of seeing something illicit, Dan agrees to see the video, which might or might not be a real snuff film. After his initial reaction of revulsion, Tom is surprised to discover that he’s becoming entranced by the disturbing images. Against his better judgment, he wants to see more, and Dan is more than happy to oblige.
Gut is at its most effective during its quietest moments, when it depicts the addictive properties of the videos, and the slow mental deterioration Tom experiences as he gets sucked into a vortex of self-loathing. He knows it’s wrong, but he’s compelled to continue watching. In one scene, he attempts to surreptitiously view one of the DVDs at home, only to be interrupted by his wife. As his compulsion grows, he finds himself becoming detached from his family. The only sane choice left is to cut himself off completely from Dan.
The gory makeup effects by Leighann Brokaw and Josh Turi, impressive for a low-budget production, deserve special mention. They’re used sparingly, but are quite jarring. Thankfully, the film doesn’t linger on these sequences for too long – more is implied than actually shown. A minimalist score by Chad Bernhard also adds to the tension.
Unfortunately, Gut gets done in by its overall lack of polish. One of its greatest offenses is the conspicuous lack of details. We’re never sure what Tom and Dan do in their generic workplace, other than sit at their cubicles and stare at their respective computer screens. We’re also led to believe that they somehow managed to get hired for the same company and work, presumably in the same department. Most of their dialogue together is stilted and bland. Tom’s wife Lily (Sarah Schoofs) is similarly underdeveloped, without much to do but look perplexed because her husband has lost interest in her. The acting in Gut ranges from decent to amateurish. The film is marred by Vail’s wooden acting and flat line delivery. Wilder is somewhat more successful as Dan, conveying a certain geeky charm that masks a life lived in desperation.
I’m probably not the ideal audience for Gut, but then again, I’m not entirely sure who the audience would be. Its subject matter is likely too repugnant for the arthouse crowd, and not flashy enough to attract a wider audience. While it worked reasonably well as a low-key thriller, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Gut was missing something. It would be interesting to see what Elias could do with a bigger budget, a better script and stronger performances.