Independent filmmaking has reached a point in the history of the medium that people like Alfred Hitchcock could have never imagined possible. Quality equipment (mainly cameras) have reached a price point that is affordable to the average Joe, and has created a double edged sword in the world of entertainment. On one hand, people that would have never gotten a chance to make a feature film can now afford to do so, giving every future Kevin Smith the availability of top of the line production value at very little cost. On the other hand, it gives everyone with a little money the opportunity to make a feature film, which, in some cases, isn’t the best result for the audience. I’m not saying that Elias, the single-named director of Gut is one of those people that shouldn’t be making films, but he walks the fine line of quality vs production value very finely.
In his latest opus, the writer/director gives us the tale of two friends, Tom (Jason Vail) and Dan (Nicholas Wilder), who are just your average office workers. Only, in an attempt to associate themselves with their good times in youth, they bond by watching old horror movies from their pasts. These days, Tom has a family, and walks through life missing something. Dan, a single guy, purports to live the good life where he is free to do what he likes, but at the same time, is stuck feeling lonely. When they do get to spend time together, it’s a special time for both of them. So when Dan finally gets Tom to come over to watch a new video he has found on an underground website, it changes them forever, as they view a snuff film and become obsessed, each in their own way, with finding out if it is real or not.
Now, my first point was that because filmmaking has become cost effective for a wider selection of the populace, doesn’t mean everyone should be making movies. There are times where this is true about Gut, but there are moments in the movie that are worth watching, and I’m glad the filmmakers got the opportunity to follow their vision through to fruition. For example, there are incredibly well shot scenes in Gut (and while I’m not 100% sure, it looks to be shot on a RED One camera), but in other scenes (the office scenes, for example) where the use of existing lights makes the images look flat and of home video quality. The cinematographer obviously knew what he was doing in certain scenes that are well lit and stylishly shot, but there are other scenes where it seems like they didn’t even try to capture anything other than what was there.
As the film moves through its runtime, it is a series of successes and failures. It’s successful in depicting the type of psychological relationship shared between the two characters over a snuff film, but at a lot of times, it wastes precious screen time attempting to be introspective and just coming off as dull. Granted, introspection is something that is tough to capture in a movie. When done right, it makes for powerful filmmaking (like There Will Be Blood), however, when done wrong, you’re left staring at characters as they think, with no hint to guide you to what they’re thinking about. You’re left staring at an actor doing nothing, and it can get boring. There are two ways to do this. One, as with There Will Be Blood is masterfully crafting the psychology of a character to the point where you know what he’s thinking. The other, lazier way is with narration (such as in Dexter) which can come off very cheesy in something that is trying to take itself serious (again, Dexter). However, Gut doesn’t really do either one, and leaves you to wonder just what is going on with these characters, with vague hints at what their psychological motivations are.
Another facet of the filmmaking process that gains the most benefit of a seasoned professional is the editing. All too often, an inexperienced editor (or one too close to the material) will leave too much in, because they can’t bear to cut a single frame of the story. In reality, these films would only benefit from massive trimming. This is not limited to independent filmmaking, as I tend to think Robert Rodriguez leaves too much in his films, a symptom of his being too close to the stories he often writes himself. It takes a little distance to be able to chop a scene up for the sake of the overall quality of the film, and as is the case with Gut, a director that edits his own films can often not make that distinction. Director Elias has this problem too often in the film, letting shots and scenes linger for far too long where nothing happens, for any number of reasons. As I said, I understand the problem, but that doesn’t excuse it.
It may seem I’m being overly harsh (or you may think I’m being an apologist) of this particular film, but that’s only because I feel it could have been a better film. I often saw flashes of true talent, but too many of those flashes were overshadowed by scenes that went on too long, and serious psychological examinations of characters that are ruined by moments that end up feeling corny and take you straight out of the film. For the most part, the two leads are decent enough actors to carry the scenes they are in. They take themselves seriously, where playing it tongue in cheek would have been easier, but also made things even messier.
The true stand out element of the whole project is the use of practical effects, which are effective and realistic looking, for what had to be a minimal budget. The scenes of vivisection are brutal and uncompromising, and do a lot to sell the ideas in the film, even more so than the script does. The psychological underpinnings of the story are an interesting take on the genre of snuff in the world of horror, and the approach is well worth investing your time into. The only drawback is some of these elements are not executed as effectively as the special effects, resulting in an uneven film overall. The good elements eventually outweigh the bad, and even the somewhat ambiguous and kind of sudden ending falls into the good category, although it may infuriate some viewers that want a cut and dried explanation. Still, I’m at a loss to be too harsh on the production, for every poorly executed element, there was an equally well-executed element to combat it. If the script were a little more polished, and the editing a bit tighter, it would have been an even better film, and that’s what prevents me from loving it, the knowledge that it could have been better. Still, the filmmakers were obviously passionate about the story, and in an industry full of lifeless remakes and obvious cash grabs, passion and dedication has to count for something, or we’re left with the Nightmare on Elm Street remakes of the world. The truth is, despite its flaws in execution, I’d rather watch a film like Gut any day, because it at least has balls enough to take itself seriously without mocking those who are watching it. For what it matters, I’m curious to see where Elias evolves to next, as he’s obviously got something to say, even if he needs a little more work to say it properly.