Horror tends to be a genre that many filmmakers cut their teeth on when trying to enter into the business. Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, even Francis Ford Coppola got some of their first work in the blood-and-guts corner of cinema and have gone on to become world-renowned. However, there are also plenty of filmmakers who have not had the same sort of success. The genre has gained a notoriety of being a cheap and easy way to make a movie without having to put a lot of effort into any single aspect of filmmaking. Sadly this is a mindset a lot of first-time filmmakers have taken on and the reason for hundreds, if not thousands, of useless horror films being submitted to festivals every year. Gut is one of those films.
Gut is the debut film from writer/director/producer/editor Elias. It tells the story of Tom (Jason Vail), the average middle class family man struggling to live the boring life he has. He goes to work at his generic office job, has lunch at the same diner every day with his wacky friend Dan (Nicholas Wilder), he goes home and has dull and unsatisfying sex with his beautiful wife, Lily, (Sarah Schoofs), then goes to bed to start it all over the next day. Tom plans on trying to break out of his funk by moving the family somewhere else and leaving Dan behind, but Dan offers another solution. Dan has just come into the possession of a DVD in which a woman is shown tied down to a table as an unseen figure cuts open her abdomen and slides his hand in and out of the gaping wound. This video is apparently what Tom and Dan both needed to jump start their lives again as Tom approaches life with a new vigor, despite his terrifying nightmares, and Dan is even turning his life around by finding a woman and some self-confidence, while secretly ordering more snuff videos. Everything seems to be working out for the duo until the video’s creator sets his sights on the women in their lives.
Many who read that description may find themselves interested in where the story could go from there, but it’s only fair to say that the description opens the imagination to potential and possibilities. That potential and possibilities are then quickly squandered. With all the various directions a set up like that can go in, Gut seems to be more interested in creating realistic gore and showing breasts in between periods of boring the audience to tears. After being introduced to the main characters, there is never a redeeming moment that convinces the audience they should care about either Tom or Dan. Neither character is likable, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad way to introduce a character, neither becomes likable, or even relatable, throughout the course of the film. By the time the story concludes in what feels like the most obvious twist possible, neither has truly grown in anyway and their actions do not bring any sort of satisfying ending.
Horror films have no shortage of nihilistic endings, but the effect is lost on an audience when they are bored far before they reach that point. This is at fault both in the writing and the acting in the film. With a story that feels like a rushed, first-draft script and actors that struggle with the craft of acting, the movie can’t help but seem amateur and sloppy. Sarah Schoofs is the rare exception as a competent actress that builds an accessile character. She is worthy of getting more work, and will hopefully build a career that hides this embarrassment on her resume.
The technical side of the film is not any better off. The film would have benefited from more time and attention spent in every stage of its creation. The dialogue and sound work seems to have been untouched in post-production, relying on sub-par on-set recording and, at one point, it’s quite obvious that sound effects were either forgotten or not added due to a lack of competent sound design. The music is sparse and simplistic, feeling like another victim of low budget and lack of attention. Despite a very small number of shots that are mediocre in construction, the cinematography falls between lazy and ignored, seeing as the main focus of production was finding the weirdest looking knife possible to cut open fake torsos with. Kudos should be given to the effects team of Leighann Brokaw and Josh Turi for an excellent job with the film’s gore, but this film is a fine example that gore alone does not make a horror movie worth watching. This is the issue plenty of genre films and first-time filmmakers have not yet been able to grasp. Gut is worth seeing if only as a testament to first-time filmmakers on what not to do when making a genre film.
With Gut, Elias has proved what so many others in the film business have said for years: you can not do it all yourself. A person can either do one job really well, or several jobs very poorly, unless the preparation is impeccably fashioned and practical. With a poorly written script, mediocre direction and cinematography, and lazy editing, Elias has not impressed in any aspect of this film. He is not alone as most of the acting performances are executed in a similarly lazy or amateur fashion. Like the snuff films it centers on, Gut feels like a movie that was never meant to be seen or enjoyed by anyone other than the man who made it.