The snuff film has been a “go-to” topic in horror films for years. Whether it’s about tracking down an alleged snuff film (8MM), people being forced to ‘star’ in a snuff film (VACANCY), or documentaries on the snuff film phenomena (SNUFF: A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT KILLING ON CAMERA), the snuff film seems to be a great source of inspiration and fascination for the horror-going public. The film, GUT, takes the classic urban legend and does something unique with it — it becomes just an aspect of the plot and not the focus of the film itself. Let’s see what the results are. Tom (Jason Vail) is your average guy. Married to loving wife Lily (Sarah Schoofs), he a charming young daughter, Katie (played by both Kirstianna and Kaitlyn Mueller) and a typical, average marriage. Tom, though, seems to be going through some tough times and hates the mundane routine his life has fallen into.
The same boring job, eating lunch at the same time every day in the same diner. He becomes aloof, showing signs of depression, and begins to slowly push away the people in his life who love him the most.
One such person is, Dan (Nicholas Wilder), Tom’s long-time best friend. Dan is still single and clings to his college way of life like plastic wrap adheres to jello. Dan is one of those people Tom has been pushing away and tries to talk to Tom about it. Tom insists everything is okay but it’s obvious it isn’t. So in a ‘hail mary’ attempt to cheer Tom up and reconnect with him, Dan goes onto an underground genre-themed website and orders what the filmmaker claims is an authentic snuff film. Dan doesn’t believe it for a second, but he buys it to try to shake Tom out of his funk.
That night the Tom and Dan watch the snuff film and when it’s over... Dan
mentions that he’d like to talk about what they just saw. Tom yells at him,
“What is there to talk about,” and storms out of Dan’s apartment!
Tom's mounting feelings of guilt and disillusionment quickly give way to paranoia and fear. One snuff video soon follows another and another, blurring the line between reality and voyeuristic fascination, and threatening to dismantle everything around them.
That night the two watch the film and when it’s over Dan mentions that he’d like to talk about what they just saw. Tom yells at him, “What is there to talk about,” and storms out of Dan’s apartment. But leaving the room where he saw the ‘snuff’ film was easier than getting the snuff film to leave him, and later that night Tom finds himself unable to stop thinking about what he saw. On the film there was a naked woman strapped to a table and a gloved hand bearing a razor sharp knife slices open the woman’s stomach, reaches into the wound, and pulls out her intestines. Not only was there no dialogue or any other plot, but the effects looked incredibly real. The film has gotten under both Dan and Tom’s skin and Tom finds himself more and more
preoccupied (or is he really obsessed) with that mysterious film?
No this does not suddenly become like the Nicholas Cage film 8MM where he submerges himself in the underground to track down whether the film was real or reel. No! Tom doesn't get so obsessed he becomes a killer. What GUT does is pretty damn unique. It uses the snuff film as both the backdrop and the driving force of the plot. GUT is a psychological horror film and is one of the best I’ve seen. This is a slow burn movie that focuses 100% on the characters and offers a fantastic payoff in the end. The ‘payoff,’ though, isn’t a scene of explosive violence, but is a more-than-satisfying culmination of everything Tom and Dan have gone though. GUT slowly builds the tension, suspense, and horror until it reaches it’s stage of critical mass.
GUT really explores how the event of watching such an intense film would affect someone and how it would forever change you. On the one hand, Dan becomes bold and screws up his courage to ask out the waitress, Sally (Angie Bullaro) who works at the diner they go to every day. Tom, though, becomes both horrified and fascinated with the films. Tom’s thoughts about the snuff film become ambiguous because the subject material horrifies him, yet it’s the one thing that’s made him feel something in a long time.
Lately he’s become alienated and detached from the world and the snuff film has served as some kind of bizarre umbilical cord that re-tethers him to his life. But when he starts fantasizing about slitting his own wife’s stomach open and is unable to enjoy something as innocent as having a tickle fight with his daughter because her tummy becomes exposed, he knows there’s something wrong.
Writer-director Elias has an amazing amount of focus and control over his film here and needs to be commended. In lesser hands GUT would have easily spun outta control and left the viewer scratching their heads thinking, “What the fuck did I just see?” But Elias knows exactly what he wants GUT to be and never lets it stray or get off track, not even for a second. The acting here is top-notch and much of the success of GUT must be given to the performances of Mr. Vail and Mr. Wilder. Watching this film you’ll find yourself investing a lot into these two characters. If you don’t, you really won’t “get” anything out of the experience. But these two make it easy to forget we’re watching a film. Their performances grab you from the opening scene and hold you until the final frame. I felt as though I went through the same cathartic effect as these two characters did by the final reel.
Elias also does an tremendous job of setting the tone of the film right from the beginning. Feelings of alienation, depression, detachment are all beautifully set right from the start and carry through the entire film with the same intensity. Without this set tone, GUT would've been as effective as a late nigh infomercial! What also definitely helps is the specific soundtrack Elias chose. Chad Bernhard’s original, minimalistic soundtrack really enhances the mood that Elias is setting and the various nuances of music are all in the perfect places.
Dan and Tom soon realize that those films really are snuff films, especially after Dan’s waitress-girlfriend (Angie Bullaro) disappears, only to reappear on a new DVD Dan receives in the mail! But again, GUT isn't about the snuff film itself; it’s about the effect that such an intense film has on Dan and Tom’s lives. The viewer looking for a graphic, gory, blood bath of a film is going to be extremely disappointed. But if you’re willing to invest time in the main characters and the situation they find themselves involved in, then you’re going to be greatly rewarded. GUT is definitely a “slow burner” and it's going to get under your skin for sure!
The themes Elias examines here and the way he executes them are masterful! This is an indie filmmaker to definitely keep you eye on. This is one of the most powerful films we've seen in quite some time, and the ending is going to simply blow you away!
It's definitely brutal, not in a graphic way, but in a “holy shit, I was holding my breath for the last ten minutes!” way... so do not miss GUT!
About Jason Vail.
I LIKE TO WEAR A LOT OF HATS IN THIS BIZ. ACTOR, CASTING DIRECTOR, PRODUCER, WRITER, ACTING COACH, EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING FILM MAKES ME HAPPY.
Also check out Jason's headshot photography:
Valley of the Sasquatch
ABe Vs ZOmbies
Whom God Helps
Best Ribs In Town
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter
The Last Policeman