Cut Shoot Kill (2017), written and directed by Michael Walker, fuses elements of gore, comedy and self-referential narrative to comment upon the production and reception of independent genre film. It concerns an ambitious actress, Serena (Alexandra Socha), who finds that life imitates art when she signs up to star in a low-budget slasher film.
On a darker, more sinister level, the film can be read as a commentary upon the real horror of the film industry. Serena must become her character in order to survive, which here means so much more than personal development and method acting. In a similar vein to Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s satanic storyline in Starry Eyes (2014), Cut Shoot Kill is a metaphor for obsession, manipulation, and blackmail within the film industry, and the very real dangers and consequences it poses for the inexperienced, naïve and vulnerable.
Though Cut Shoot Kill is an homage to the slasher film, eschewing the supernatural elements of Starry Eyes, both films present egotistical characters focused on stardom. Their acting is their life, and they come to realise that they will do anything for their art, undergoing a literal becoming.
From the opening shots the film’s self-referential approach is clear, with several instances of diegetic footage used to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Serena initially resists the opportunity to audition for a new low-budget horror film. Making it very clear that she believes the genre to be beneath her, upon meeting the director, Alabama (Alex Hurt), Serena is so taken with his passionate relationship with film – horror in particular – that she agrees to join the production. Not least, it seems, because she has some experience and is lauded as a star amongst the cast of new actors.
Filming takes place in a remote wooded location, where there is no cell reception, and cast and crew members are not allowed to leave the premises. Serena quickly learns that the crew all have names that correspond to their roles on the film: Cutter, Shooter, Soundy. Like her, the group, who have worked with each other for years, live for their art. Serena also suspects that the actors might be dying for it, as Alabama’s previous muse died mysteriously while filming their previous project. Her suspicions are confirmed when actors on the current shoot start to go missing. Serena must become her character in order to survive and, in doing so, is forced to decide how far she is willing to go in her transition to become a legendary name.
There are several interesting characters in the film, all enhanced by believable performances, from Socha’s turn as the egotistical lead, to Hurt’s obsessive, wounded director, and Zanny Laird’s vulnerable portrayal of Chloe – particularly in the uncomfortable scenes in which she wants to negate on her contract as she doesn’t want to reveal her breasts after agreeing to do so to get the part. However, it is Henry Zebrowski’s take on producer Eddie Shipman that steals the show. Zebrowski presents a sinister villain with an underlying pathos; like the other characters, he too has been seduced by the industry he uses to manipulate the players in his art, which sets up the fascinating final act.
Cut Shoot Kill operates on many levels; what seems to be a simple, straightforward narrative in the first instance is revealed to be a cleverly constructed, layered, and self-referential film, with a final surprising twist that stays with the viewer long after watching.