Tom (Jason Vail) seems to be bored with his life, despite everything looking great on the outside. He’s married, has a lovely daughter and a stable job, but that doesn’t seem to bring him happiness. His best friend since childhood, Dan (Nicholas Wilder), sees that he’s going through the motions, and is secretly jealous that Tom’s new family takes away from ‘guy time’; time they used to spend together goofing off and watching horror films.
Dan convinces Tom to come over one night, on the promise of showing him a film that could change his life. The film in question? An unnamed DVD that Dan received in the post. On it is footage of a woman having her stomach sliced open, and the amateur surgeon sticking his fingers into her gaping, bloody wound. Is the footage real? It certainly looks convincing, and neither Tom nor Dan can shake the images from their heads. It launches them on a descent into darkness that will taint not just themselves, but their loved ones, too.
The use of a snuff film being the catalyst for a journey into the heart of darkness is something genre fans will be familiar with, be it from the mind-bending Videodrome through to the OTT 8MM. As a subject matter it is as fascinating and dark as it gets; imaging there are people out there filming violent deaths for the entertainment of those who want to witness it seems all the more relevant with the amount of real-life horrors captured regularly on camera phones and freely distributed online. In a world where you can view a near endless parade of violent images for free, just how can you make it interesting in a film now? Thankfully Gut takes the much less sensational approach to the material, and instead focuses on how it affects our two lead characters. Despite being both horrified by what they witnessed, Tom begins to find a new fire in his belly, and Dan finally breaks out of his socially awkward shell and asks out the waitress he regularly flirts with. But that doesn’t last long for either of them, as the lure of such dangerous material starts to slowly eat away at their own friendship and family life.
At the core of the film is also a strong theme on how time changes friendships, and how people can drift apart. We’ve all been there at some point; getting married and having children means sacrifices have to be made, and sometimes it’s at the expense of life-long friendships. Late night beers and partying just aren’t an option anymore, but most of our friends grow with us and accept these things as a part of life, and we make do with the occasional time we get together. The problem for Dan is that he hasn’t grown; he still sits in and watches tapes that he and Tom made when they were teens, and wishes things could be the same again. Instead of being happy for his friend, he feels he has been left out, and isn’t happy with being passed over all the time. It’s a dangerous way to think, and leads to much of the horrible events that transpire in the climax. This is supported with solid performances from both Vail and Wilder. They both carry heavy emotional weight, especially in the second half of the film, and Sarah Schoofs also does well as Tom’s wife, Lily.
There are some points that drag it down, unfortunately. The mostly static camera work makes the film show its budget restrictions, and occasionally shots will run too long, displaying a not-very-interesting camera angle. Certain aspects are repeated so often it becomes a bit frustrating (like shots of either character staring at each others empty work desk, for example, or one of them sitting on their own in the diner), and the sound design feels much too quiet in the first half. The music that is used is low-key and effective, but I just wish it was introduced earlier in the film to add a bit of life to the opening twenty minutes. Saying that though, the film DOES look good, and the special effects that are used sparingly are excellent and very convincing.
Overall, Gut does things that many low-budget films struggle with, namely having engaging performances and realistic character arcs. If you are looking for an overly gory thrill ride, then this film isn’t for you. However, if you are into low-budget indie films that have a deliberate slow pace, and can get past the budget restrictions, then give Gut a shot.