Salem Horror Fest 2020: It’s Not You, It’s Me in ‘It Cuts Deep’

We need to talk. Those are the four words every person in a relationship winces at upon hearing. No matter what the discussion is about, change is almost a certainty and, unfortunately, not everyone is ready to commit to the next step. The discussion of “the next step” is a big one for couples, but for It Cuts Deep’s Sam (Charles Gould) and Ashley (Quinn Jackson), the weight of it all can be murder.

Beginning with a Michael Myers inspired slaying of two teenagers caught in the act, the viewer gets the idea this is going to be a tale of morality from the unwed teenage sex angle. As the film moves to its main couple, a seemingly established couple in their 30s, the film immediately throws a curveball. It Cuts Deep mainly centers on a couple navigating their rocky relationship.

Ashley has been hoping for a heart to heart with Sam on this Christmas vacation and to have the big talk about what’s next for their relationship. As Sam opts to take a bathroom break at a rest stop, and he stumbles upon a father and son blocking the entrance. Standing there, Sam observes the child’s tantrum and the father’s ensuing ire in an awkwardly hilarious exchange between a fragile father on the edge and a man who clearly wants nothing more than to go to the bathroom. I imagine this is a thing happening outside department store restrooms nationwide.

Sam and Ashley head to Sam’s childhood home in a place so rural that cellphone signals cease to exist. The distance between the couple is felt as Sam tries to make sophomoric jokes, and Ashley rarely gives way to a laugh. It’s obvious that the couple is trying, but given their stiff attitudes toward one another, the audience struggles with the chemistry factor. As the story moves on, however, it becomes clear that this is the intent of director Nicholas Payne Santos. It makes sense by the end of the film given both characters’ internal conflicts between doing the right thing and doing what’s right for themselves.

During Sam’s failed attempt at making a romantic dinner, Ashley again brings up “the talk” and tries to gauge Sam’s thoughts. Trying to avoid the question, Sam ends up choking on his burnt dinner and down on a single knee in front of Ashley. It leads to an awkward non-proposal that does not fill Ashley with the reassurance or commitment she set her hopes on.

It’s really fun to see how Charles Gould maneuvers a stressed-out Sam and his attempts to pull Ashley back to him through silly quips. The comedic charm of It Cuts Deep is enough to make the audience stick around, and the horror element becomes gravy. These characters are not only believable but resonant to anyone who’s ever found themselves disconnecting in a relationship.

The couple goes out to breakfast the next morning where they run into a friendly but intense Nolan (John Anderson), who claims to be an old friend of Sam’s. Immediately upon reconnecting with Nolan, something triggers in Sam. He begins to get cagey, seeing scenes of the murder that took place in the opening. Immediately, I got the sense that I’d stumbled into a sort of Strangers on a Train situation. When Sam sees the blade that murdered that girl years ago, the audience wonders who is she to Sam if Nolan is the most likely suspect?

Nolan has zero awareness of Sam’s coldness towards him and comes off as slightly flirtatious to Sam in regard to Ashley. When Sam sees Nolan again later at the grocery store with his wife and baby, he begins to think Nolan may be stalking him and that a rash of strange occurrences at the house could be related. Sam declines when Nolan asks Sam if he wants to hold his baby, saying he thinks he’d break her. Nolan then twists Sam’s words, putting him in a terrible predicament with Ashley.

Ashley walks through the woods at sunrise in a warm winter coat covered in blood.

The allure exists in the film’s ability to torture Sam’s character and the abundantly immature lifestyle to which he’s grown accustomed. During the process of this uprooting, Sam never once considers Ashley’s needs or concerns and the film begins to focus on Sam’s array of man-child emotions of jealousy, pettiness, and selfishness. Somehow, the film navigates Sam’s actions into looking overprotective for a time, while Ashley increasingly comes to see him as immature and non-committal.

The juxtaposition of Sam’s comedic sense to his unhinged counterpart is so well written it’s like if Seth Rogan in Knocked Up and the characters in Larry David’s Sour Grapes produced a slasher lovechild. The characters, including would-be villain Nolan, become extremely likable as most will be able to empathize with Sam and Ashley’s predicament.

I wanted to hate Nolan, and the film tries very hard to want that from you. Between his odd way of showing up at the house, mannerisms, stark dialogues, and temper he should be detestable but for some reason, you see the charisma. At times, John Anderson bounces Nolan back and forth so quickly from a small-town boy that’s happy to have his friend back to an unfettered psychopath that he reminded me somewhat of Timothy Olyphant in Scream 2.

Nolan strings Sam along, constantly insistent on the pair getting married and pushing Sam’s buttons. When Nolan informs Ashley that his sister was murdered ten years ago, the two share an embrace that allows the audience to see Nolan make a perverted face toward Sam. Tensions rise on all sides and Sam’s stress level invokes a touch of madness in him. As Sam unravels, his fear of losing his girlfriend sees him throwing their car keys into the woods, seemingly to prevent her from leaving him.

With It Cuts Deep, Nicholas Payne Santos creates a twist on the slasher genre that comes from a place between male born Peter Pan-ism and the inability of some men to start a conversation by using jokes to dodge the tough questions as a stress mechanic. This cleverly crafted horror comedy found me laughing out loud on multiple occasions, and the result is highly entertaining.

It Cuts Deep will be showing at this year’s all-virtual Salem Horror Fest during its second weekend on October 9. An all-access pass will get you into all the panels, retrospectives, and premieres for both weekends beginning on October 2.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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