Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Writer/director Elias' unsavory creep-fest GUT pulls out the stops--with odd subtlety


What happens to boys who watch too many sleazy horror films too often? A possible scenario -- the boys turn into really strange men -- is offered by the one-word filmmaker, Elias, whose first full-length feature as writer and director, the all too appropriately named GUT, opens this week. These naughty boys, two friends since school days named Tom and Dan, seem to have grown up almost in tandem and now work at the same office, even though Tom has managed to marry and have a sweet little daughter during his off hours. Gut (yes, that title is used as a verb, rather than a noun) has been invited to 20 different film festivals over the past year (mostly, as you might imagine, in the horror and fright categories), and I think it safe to say that, once seen, it will not be easily forgotten.

The movie begins with a super-violent few moments -- blood splattering all over the place -- as something or someone is done in. Yet even here, in the midst of such carnage, whether by design or a very low budget (most likely both), we see very little, really. Elias (shown at left, giving us quite the stare) keeps his frame tight and his editing (done by himself) smart and fast, so that much of the movie and its horror is suggested first, then heightened by further suggestion and repetition. The result is one of the most unsavory little movies I have encountered in years. Gut is so unsavory that I didn't want to keep watching, but it is so well handled -- the writing, directing, acting, editing and all the rest -- that I couldn't stop watching. Bummer.

From where does all this ugliness come? Well, try combining the idea of sexual arousal with snuff films. Then add two pretty and vulnerable young women and finally a lovely little child. Clearly, Elias enjoys being transgressive; just as clearly, he enjoys doing it with some style and subtlety. The movie hinges in good part on the two actors who play the leads. (The women are mostly decorative and used as ploys, though their performances--especially Sarah Schoofs, as Tom's wife, shown bottom, left -- are quite good). In the role of Tom, the "family" man, Jason Vail (shown at right and below) is alternately nerdy and no-good. He has an odd face that can look quite handsome at times and otherwise utterly ordinary. Spending a good deal of the film looking pre-occupied (and for good reason), he only seems to come fully alive as he grows aroused watching the awful snuff stuff (below).

Nudity is used throughout the film, sparingly but precisely, as both men make love (no, not to each other) or shower or just wander the bedroom. It is used equally precisely on the snuff discs they watch, so that life and "art" mirror each other in nasty fashion.

The nerdier of the two men, Dan -- a marvelously creepy and sad performance from Nicholas Wilder -- seems torn between his need for Tom (the homo-eroticism is never stated but it's unmissable) and his desire for the sexy and nicely mature waitress in the luncheonette near the office that the two men frequent with regularity. In his single sex scene, Wilder, too, projects an odd distance between himself and his sexual partner. You can feel him feeling the pull of that video, even as he is satisfying his woman.

Elias manages the same precision and subtlety with the material we see on the video discs. He shows us enough to make us wince and look away but no more. His editing is crisp, clear and to the point. And while he doesn't hold back in the plot department (this happens and then this and then that), neither does he tie everything up neatly. Where have these discs come from, and why? At the end we still do not know for certain what has actually happened. Much is suggested; little is confirmed.

Some viewers will rail at this elusiveness. I found it disarming and unsettling. Gut is an ugly movie. I didn't "like" it. But I surely am impressed. The film -- self-distributed, unrated and running 90 minutes -- opens in New York City this Friday at the Cinema Village and is available beginning today on VOD via iTunes, CinemaNow, Vudu, Amazon Instant Video, Xbox, PS3 and YouTube.

2 comments:

Jason Vail said...

Thanks for the great review James, glad you found it provoking, as a lot of folks have even though it may not be one's cup of tea. I still haven't brought myself to let my own dad watch it. Jason V.

James van Maanen said...

That's FUNNY, Jason! But I can fully understand your dilemma. The movie is going to disturb the older generation, for sure. It did me, anyway, and what my own now-dead dad would have thought of it, I shudder to think.

I look forward to seeing you in something else again soon. Keep up the good work!