Life starts as a thrilling ride – growing up among friends, school from elementary to college – there’s change at every turn. But after the degree, routine sets in. You mate, settle down, and have chicken every Wednesday night. 24-29 becomes a blur of a slow down in preparation for ‘adulthood’ – getting up for work and laying down to sleep, with nothing but responsibility in between. After a while, you spend your nights staring at the ceiling. It all becomes numb, and you’re not even sure how old you are. This is what Tom’s (Jason Vail) life has become. An excruciatingly mundane monotony, screaming on the inside for change or excitement. But not at the expense of the life he is building around his wife and little girl. Tom is, after all, a stable and responsible guy.
His best friend since childhood, Dan (Nicholas Wilder), is not. He is primarily single, is a jokey recluse of a nerd, and works with Tom – living for lunchtime reflections on the way things used to be. Dan misses the days of pal’n around, and has been failing to get family man Tom over for beers as of late. When Dan finds out through the grapevine that his best friend is exploring finding another job and moving away, he becomes emotionally uncomfortable, oddly needy, and mopey. Until one chipper day at lunch, when Dan explains with glee that he has something that Tom just has to see. After some prodding, Tom reluctantly agrees to stop over like the old days and see what the hype is all about.
The excitement is over a DVD that Dan has attained through the mail. The first scene opens to a woman sprawled out on a table, hands tied, her bare quivering belly exposed. What plays out on screen brings the gore factor – involving a razor sharp knife and giving new meaning to the term “fist fuck” – and its too much for Tom to handle. He retreats home to the safety of his bland wife and tries to distance himself from Dan’s newly found odd hobby – but the visions of what he has seen are so stark and branding that Tom is drawn back out of gnawing curiosity.
Soon life begins to unravel for both of these men, and the shit hits the fan when someone close to one of them turns up as the most recent victim on the latest disc to come in the mail. No matter how hard Tom insists on getting rid of the films, Dan keeps receiving them in his mailbox. Paranoia ensues – is Dan getting so off kilt he’s become murderous and continuing to order these snuff films – or are they just showing up unannounced and anonymous as he claims? By the time Tom’s family is threatened, all hell breaks loose, and Tom is forced to take drastic actions – either against, or in defense of, his lifelong pal.
Gut is an independent hypnotic effort that attempts to induce the main character’s suffering into you by living out his extremely mediocre existence. Long hours at the desk, staring at the wall while hugging his flat line of a wife – extended scenes that everlastingly zoom in on a entranced Jason Vail. Gut slows you down, similar to an M Night Shyamalan film – with the cinematographic feel of a fetal David Cronenberg work as it might look shot by today’s digital cameras.
There is an artistic flare to the film, and the violence goes past the point of inference (which nearly satisfied the gore hound in me) – but there is a disconnect somehow with the emotional factor. Gut would work much better if the viewer were more emotionally invested into Tom, his wife, and his little girl – but it never quite plugs into that outlet of the heart. The open ending leaves you to wonder about the why’s and where-for’s, and the climactic knock-out scene in the third act never really punches YOU in the gut – because a lot of it occurs off camera and is referenced to, when it really could have pummeled the viewer who waited 90 minutes for a horror payoff, ala Jack Ketchum’s The Lost.
If you are of the sort that enjoys Ti West’s deliberate pace, or slow films like Unbreakable – features that attempt to entrance or slow down the viewer – you may like what’s being offered here, as Elias does a good job of pacing this drone of a psychological horror film to a crawl. His conveyance of the horror of midlife dullness hits its mark and is effective – but when the big horror blow comes, its a bit stepped back from, making this feature better digested by those who are overly sensitive to graphic violence, or those who can absorb brain fodder from unspectacular, domestic indoor Hells. Gut has potential – from Elias’ grip on the reigns of trance, to the effectively uncomfortable acting of Vail, Wilder, and (Tom’s wife) Sarah Schoofs – Gut will hit for some and miss for others. Its a bizarre-laced film that warrants viewing on an empty evening, and stands out among the horror crowd with its hypnotic, signature style – but if you’re looking for the next visceral punch to suffer by, (aside from the Videodrome-like intestinal invasions) you may want to prepare yourself for something more fitting for the early 80’s: when the overwhelming mass of cable-bound, mediocre, psychological horror was the end result of your purchase, regardless of the imagination-inspiring title and image on the front cover of the box.