Ginger Nuts of Horror
Come on in, the water's fetid...
Cutting Moments (1997)
Douglas Buck, USA
Welcome back to Film Gutter, and today it's a quick and refreshing dip in the putrescent waters at the very limits of cinema, as we're looking at a short film this time around. There are a few others we'll be coming to in the coming weeks, but today's offering is Douglas Buck's Cutting Moments, a very shocking slice of suburbia that pays a grisly homage to Blue Velvet in tone and style. Despite the runtime of just 25 minutes, I was really surprised just how went into this film and how much I was left wondering about in the finale.
The story follows a married couple, Sarah and Patrick, who despite having a child together and sharing the same house come across as virtual strangers. The first two scenes play beautifully into the cutting motif – Patrick cutting the hedges out front, and Sarah chopping vegetables ready for dinner. There's also a slightly disturbing moment between father and son, as the boy plays with his action figures by placing them on top of one another in a near sexual pose. Patrick takes the toys away, and later on we come to see them in the bin. There's also a reference to a visitor – by implication a social worker – which places an even more alarming interpretation on the father and son's relationship.
There are a few horribly tense and uneasy family scenes, which culminate when Sarah gets herself made up and dressed up in an effort to attract Patrick. He's busy watching a baseball game, and he simply looks through her, as though she barely exists or has lost her mind. The death of their sexual relationship is pretty clear in this scene. The movie keeps dialogue to a very minimum, but says a lot in its first twenty minutes without the need for it. Silences and looks feel every bit as telling in this particular context.
At this point, I was thinking to myself that while the viewing experience had been really interesting, and distinctly uneasy in atmosphere, it hadn't quite lived up to is disturbing reputation.
But there were still five minutes left to earn this reputation, and boy, did those five minutes justify it.
In these closing scenes of the film, the strange emotional distortion that we have seen between the couple truly comes to a head. Sarah is unable to deal with her rejection by Patrick, and in a truly sickening scene she cuts her lips off with a pair of scissors. I can't think of anything I've watched through my fingers quite so much in a long time – genuinely hard to watch. The final scene is perhaps even more difficult to see, as the shears come into some twisted and masochistic sexual play that results in a lot of blood. I say 'sexual play' because while the end results of this final scene are all too clear, the physical interaction between the two remains a little unclear.
Overall, I have to say that I loved this film – there was a lot of subtlety here in what was mostly a character piece, but one that had a really impactful and gruesome finale. If anything, I'd have liked a lot more of this – as I said up front, the film does an awful lot in 25 minutes, probably more than some other films in a similar have offered plot-wise in 75 or 90 minutes. A longer build-up and more clarity in places, rather than the intimations and hints that we get there, could easily have been featured to present a more substantial offering that genuinely could have gone down as a masterpiece of edgy horror. All that aside, as it was, this was a very good short film indeed.
A short film that was deftly handled, nicely shot and took a minimalistic approach that really proved that less can be more. The closing to the film was genuinely powerful visually, but the only thing that stopped me giving this 9+ was that I felt a little bit short-changed and was left wanting more of the same. And for that reason, it's a mightily respectable 8.5/10.