The most dreaded moment in any relationship is when the question, “are things getting weird between us?” pops up in one of the partners minds. Because often, even worrying about things getting weird is the first step towards things actually getting weird, and the forced adherence to normality, the dogged persistence through this perceived weirdness, is often a source of emotional horror. It Cuts Deep dives deep into this hell that is the dissolution of a relationship, with the added tension of a possible suitor horning in on things. Director Nicholas Payne Santos paints an awkward and quietly upsetting picture of two people being drawn into a cesspool of emotional mayhem.
It Cuts Deep is the story of Sam and Ashley, a couple enjoying (or trying to) a Christmas vacation at Sam’s childhood home. Things get off to a rough and weird start when Sam mockingly dismisses Ashley’s attempts at talking about their future (marriage and children) and it only gets worse from there. Things are already tense and uncomfortable by the time Nolan, one of Sam’s childhood friends with whom Sam has some unexplained source of animosity with, shows up and starts making things even weirder. Nolan has an issue with Sam for seemingly abandoning him years ago, Sam already dislikes Nolan for whatever reason and begins to believe he is making a move on Ashley, and as Sam’s mental health begins to unravel Ashley realizes that Sam is not the man she once knew and no longer wants to spend the rest of her life with him.
Director Santos is quite adept at painting a picture of tension bubbling just beneath the surface and recreating a near universal experience when it comes to relationships. I could feel myself reacting in a very visceral way to a scene in which Ashley thinks Sam is proposing to her, almost to the point of pausing the film to collect myself. For the most part, Santos excels at extracting very effective performances from his characters, particularly with Quinn Jackson as Ashley and John Anderson as Nolan. Jackson brings to her character a sense of hopeful optimism that things will work out with her and Sam, all the while very clearly worrying that they won’t. Her portrayal of a woman doing a near perfect job of dealing with an immature partner that she is rapidly growing disillusioned with is phenomenal, and given the performance of Charles Gould as Sam, one could say that her performance is somewhat wasted. Anderson, despite playing something of a handsome pretty boy, does quite a good job of bringing to life Nolan as an unreliable nemesis, portraying what he may actually be like (merely kind of a dick) versus how Sam sees him (a malicious and emotionally manipulative girlfriend stealing pervert who just wants to fuck Ashley and make a fool out of Sam). He switches back and forth between these personas quite effortlessly, and again it’s a shame such a performance is apparently wasted. It’s a vaguely Lynchian type of character, the smiling friend who may or may not have a knife behind his back and is waiting for you to turn yours.
Unfortunately, the films doddering and uneven progression through the first two acts collapses almost entirely into incoherence in the third act. Gould’s portrayal of Sam as an immature man-child relying almost entirely on jokes about dick size and anal sex had already made him an unlikeable protagonist, but by the third act his spiel has gotten so stale it’s almost unbearable. After a baffling and unearned twist seemingly pulled out of midair and Gould’s descent into “madness”, the already unlikeable character had become something I was groaning at every time they were on screen. Maybe it’s because he’s portraying an entitled mewling nebbish with all the charm of an eleven year old at a wedding pretending to be drunk so someone will pay attention to them, or maybe it’s quite possible Gould is a weak dramatic actor, but either way any sort of heavy dramatic themes hitting in the climax just feel flat and underwhelming. Jackson, again, does all of the heavy lifting through the final scenes, and you can’t help but feel an intense sympathy for her, but it’s cut through with Gould’s not at all threatening whining and bemoaning of a situation he’s one hundred percent responsible for.
This film could have been great if it was just about the dissolution of a relationship based entirely upon reasonable insecurities that normal, everyday people have. The big reveal in this movie (which I won’t reveal because you should still check this movie out) felt incredibly shoehorned in and only made things more confusing than they already were. Furthermore, despite billing itself as a horror-comedy, there’s very little actual comedy in here, and all of the most effective comedic aspects felt almost unintentional. Gould’s jokes almost always fall flat, but the occasional deadpan acknowledgement of how weird things are getting is quite funny. Instead of trying to inject the film with “black comedy” and traditional slasher elements, it feels like it would’ve been served better as a more streamlined film without the Nolan character and all the baggage they bring to it. A growing distance between two people seemingly in love is as much of a source of horror as any slasher, and I think this film would’ve benefitted greatly from leaning more into that.