A Thousand Cuts (2012)

MARCH 3, 2013

GENRE: SURVIVAL, THRILLER
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX INSTANT)

Look, everyone who's ever met Eli Roth probably wants to smack him in the mouth, but that wouldn't suffice for either the producer or the writer of A Thousand Cuts, as the film focuses on an Eli-type Hollywood playboy who is hot shit thanks to his torture movie (also called A Thousand Cuts) and its sequel. Apparently, his film has inspired some deranged asshole to kill a girl he sees sitting outside one day, and now her father wants revenge for the filmmaker he blames for the crime (the real killer being on death row, which is vengeance for the patient). So the movie is basically an Eli simulacrum being tied up and psychologically (and occasionally physically) tortured by someone who doesn't like him much - I hope it was cathartic for them.

It's certainly not particularly engaging for us - the concept is fine but the script never really does much with it. Lance (the director) points out almost immediately that he isn't to blame and that the guy would have killed the girl using a method from another horror movie if he didn't happen to see his, but also feels guilty (he followed the case closely), and so it's hard to really side with the dad - Lance may be a bit douchey but he has a point that the dad (Michael O'Keefe) never successfully counters. In the very similar Hard Candy, we had a clear hero (Page) and villain (Wilson), and then it got all squirmy when you find out he's less guilty than we thought and she's perhaps an even bigger psycho, but Thousand Cuts never offers that sort of grey area uncomfortableness for the audience. I felt bad for the dad, but I never once felt he was in the right for what he was doing - his case was a bit too thin, I'm afraid. Perhaps if the movie was told from his POV for the entire time (i.e. starting with him finding out who the daughter was, seeing the movie, finding out where Lance lives, etc) it might have worked, because our sympathies would be with him and then we'd learn that the guy wasn't so bad at all, but as it stands it just lacks a compelling drive.

Even the occasional attempts at adding suspense don't really work; the best is when some goofy wannabe screenwriter comes over to give Lance a script. The father has ordered Lance to stand in one spot (on a little rug) and get rid of the guy, so there's some fun in seeing this bigshot have to agree to read some goon's script, and actor Michael A. Newcomer (Lance) does a fine job at playing through the entire sequence while awkwardly standing still, but moments like that are few and far between. The other "distractions", such as the possibility that the dad has hurt the sister, don't really work at all - it's clear that the dad has beef only with Lance, and even as an "eye for an eye" thing it wouldn't make any sense for him to hurt another innocent given his situation, so it's just padding (and even with it the movie doesn't reach the 80 minute mark).

Speaking of padding, the best part of the movie is the extended party scene at the top, which has a bunch of easy but still amusing jokes about Hollywood agents and producers and wannabe actors, including a guy inexplicably doing the "Christopher Walken trying out for Han Solo" bit from SNL. It has nothing to do with anything (David Naughton is among the party members, and I kept hoping he'd show up again, but alas), and sets the wrong tone for the fully serious film that followed, but it was spirited and pretty accurate, based on my memories of the 3-4 Hollywood parties I've been to (including one for Hostel 2's premiere, incidentally). I hate all that schmoozery and asskissing, so it was fun to see it mocked in this sort of movie (i.e. not on an episode of fucking Entourage), and it kept the dull attempts at debate at bay for a while.

Not much else to say, really. It's well-meaning, but they either needed another layer or some more complications to sustain a feature runtime, and even then it would still feel a bit too thin to work either as a drama or an intense thriller. The actors are solid and it's technically competent, but it never fully engaged me, and didn't give the father enough justification to do what he was doing to live up to Hard Candy or (the comedic but also Hollywood driven) Swimming With Sharks. However, it's more focused and less inane than Call Back (which also tackled a torture horror director, though that guy seemed to be partially based on Darren Bousman), so if this is a genre, at least it's not the worst of it.

What say you?

2 comments:

  1. I'm not sure what you mean in reference to Hard Candy with "when you find out he's less guilty than we thought." (SPOILERS for folks who have yet to see it).....As I remember it, she does find his stash of child porn, he admits to being an accomplice in (if I recall) the rape and murder of a young girl, though he claims he only watched while his partner did it. She says that, when she visited the partner, he said he only watched while Patrick Wilson's character committed the actual atrocities. So, either way, he was guilty, but it's still left ambiguous as to whether he was telling the truth, his partner was telling the truth, or if they were both lying and were both aggressors rather than just watchers. Granted, it's been a little while since I've seen it, but I'm pretty sure this is how it plays out, and that's why he kills himself at the end. So, yeah, like I said, not sure what you meant about him being "less guilty than we thought." Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, though.

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    1. It's been a while for me too but I thought there was a reveal of sorts that he never actually touched any girls (though still a perv who photographed them)? I honestly forget.

      I DO remember that she overdoes her "jail bait" act to such an extent that it seems like if he had walked away after the coffee shop, she would have followed him home and continued her plan whether he was reciprocating her (faked) advances or not. So it's all her say so until that reveal, and the audience automatically siding with her because you say "child molester" and everyone instantly snaps into angry mob mode. Like, go back and watch that movie and assume she's 20 or so and accusing him of stealing her iPod - for the first hour or so, you'd think he was the victim, right? That's what makes the movie work so well - they use the worst of worst crimes to let your emotional mind fill in what he's done when the movie itself doesn't actually come down on anything. If Mr. Spock watched that movie, he'd see her as the villain.

      But this lacked that ambiguity or manipulation. It's just a guy we know little about blaming someone for a crime he had no involvement with or control over, but we're supposed to kind of side with him to some degree. It's about as effective as siding with Jason as he kills another teenager for "revenge".

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