After a promising start in his quilt-like first feature (cross-reference below), Elias has become a filmmaker of note with Gut.
This film is often difficult to watch but so are the many murderous tragedies that play out in real time daily.
The storyline—two best friends (Jason Vail as family man, Tom; Nicholas Wilder plays lonely single, Dan) share a common interest in viewing homemade snuff films of beautiful women—resonates far beyond its surface meaning: those who savour, clamour for then—ultimately—produce their own child porn, gore porn or real-life death come from all walks of life and show no signs of going away anytime soon. Worse: the ability to share these gruesome images with “anyone, anytime, anywhere,” in this everyone-is-a-filmmaker age only encourages the sick and depraved amongst us to find an even wider audience of admirers then copycats. Sadly, Luka Magnotta’s horrific dismemberment of Jun Lin bears witness to this awful truth. His “fifteen minutes of fame” have gone far beyond anything Andy Warhol could have imagined.
With just a few sets (shared office space, local diner, the homes of both buds), and a narrative that starts at the end but very slowly and deliberately teases out the journey to the final frames, using frequent blackouts adds both to the mystery and verisimilitude of the deadly tale. Like a stage play, each scene has its purpose and, once achieved, it’s cut to another shade of the dark side: reflect, repeat.
CHVAD SB’s guitar-laden score deftly reinforces the growing unease until an extended wail of near-distortion—marvellously following Tom’s final full-face, silent horror—brings everything to a close with an electronic shudder that pierces right to the core.
Perhaps the greatest achievement is Elias’ masterful use of faraway glances to build Tom’s growing dilemma. With a beautiful, patient wife (Sarah Schoofs is ideally cast) and precocious six-year-old daughter (twins Kristianna and Kaitlyn Mueller engagingly taking their turns), their father’s conflict (at first repulsed, he soon becomes addicted to the grisly disembowelments of the fine looking specimens) manifests itself in looking away from the love all around him. The most telling of these (with which every couple who has ever had a tiff can attest) is staring at the wall, naked in bed with the woman of his dreams, who—shockingly, maddeningly, pathetically—is being replaced by countless replays of alluring abdomens being sliced open. Also utilizing the possibilities of visage, Elias has found a way of getting Vail to display a vital ambiguity as to just how deep his attachment is to the images: unbending engagement trumps salacious arousal which—simultaneously—leaves the back door slightly open: Did Dan’s pubescent taunts of “sucking dicks to get the part” have any basis in fact during the constant companions’ high school days? For his part, the generally nerdy Dan perpetually wears his dark-framed glasses—even while having sex!—except for a singular, tearful meltdown that suddenly kindles far more questions than it resolves.
Only two false notes: One is sounded by the diner’s replacement for waitress Sally (Angie Bullaro has just the right mix of teasing and desire to make her date from hell seem a logical course of action). Maria Victoria comes across as too sassy by half on her probationary shifts. Initially, Tom’s reluctance to emphatically warn off his beloved against feeding a monstrous—we imagine—dinner guest sets the “I know how this ends” machinery in motion, only to have that turn of events seem a tad offside with the filmmaker’s intent.
Most effectively captured by cinematographer Trent Ermes, Elias’ taut editing is naturally at one with this challenging production that tells more truth than most anyone cares to hear: better to just look out the window and ignore whatever is trying to stare us in the face. JWR