Nightstream 2020: IT CUTS DEEP

This darkly comic relationship drama is light on laughs and tension

It Cuts Deep is a parable about toxic relationships and mediocre men who function as emotional black holes. It’s about the women who get dragged down by crude mouth breathers and the high cost of that entanglement. That’s how the text reads on surface level. There are moments where the film hits the right notes and works well, but the script keeps stubbing its toe on the way to making its points. The result is an interesting misfire.

Sam (Charles Gould) is your run of the mill 30-something man-child. He doesn’t appear to take anything seriously, so when his girlfriend, Ashley (Quinn Jackson), says they need to have a talk about their future, he says “you want to try anal?” Obviously he’s half-joking, but he’s also half-serious and it’s hard to tell which half is more of a red flag. For most of the film, Sam shuffles along, making juvenile jokes that still make him laugh as much as they did when he was a teenager. He’s kind of pathetic and that’s the point. The bigger issue with the character is that he’s duller than a stale rice cake. It’s the film’s fatal flaw, from which most of its other issues stem. The compelling thing about the character is trying to figure out why Ashley would even consider sharing a future with this man.

Ashley and Sam go away for a weekend at Sam’s childhood home. It’s a subtle re-enforcement of the film’s main themes that is effective. I wish there were more touches like this throughout, but writer-director Nicholas Santos’ script favors a more blunt, obvious approach. That’s not necessarily a problem, or it doesn’t have to be, but the plot is thin enough that I wanted more to latch on to. I can’t help feeling like the story would play better had it been told through Ashley’s point of view. She has more going on dramatically speaking, and I think her direct perspective would’ve added some depth to the film. But we can only judge the movie in front of us, and not the movie we want it to be.

Santos keeps the focus on Sam and, early on, brings in someone from his childhood to form a contentious triangle with Sam and Ashley. That someone is Nolan (John Anderson). As you’d expect, Nolan is taller, fitter, and more aesthetically pleasing than Sam. As you’d also expect, Nolan’s arrival is the thing that finally makes Sam take things more seriously. There’s a psychological bent to the tension between Sam and Nolan, but it never quite clicks. The film is too short to explore everything it sets up, so if you aren’t bought in right away it might be hard to get on the film’s wavelength.

After treading along for most of the film, the third act does get satisfyingly wacky. It’s all in service of an ending that didn’t work for me, but I appreciated Santos taking a big swing. While the film may be about Sam’s journey, it’s Jackson’s performance that anchors the film. She wears Ashley’s frustrations and worry on her face, conveying everything with her actions while the dialogue is more calm. Gould does what he can Sam, but ultimately the character is kind of unsalvageable. Gould is at his best, and Sam his most interesting, when he’s taking things seriously. But it’s a case of too little, too late in that regard.

It Cuts Deep is a movie that misses the mark more often than not. There are parts where everything clicks into place and you can see what could’ve been, but it’s not enough to save the movie. It’s a dark comedy that offers too few laughs and a hollow relationship drama. It doesn’t cut deep enough.

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