Focus On : Cut

Before I get into the main chunk of the review, let me preface it somewhat beforehand. Dominic Burns’ Cut has the distinction of being the world’s first single continuous-shot horror movie; a very impressive accomplishment by all means. Having had some experience in film-making, I can only imagine the logistical nightmare it must have been to choreograph, rehearse and film. I once helped shoot a five-minute long single-shot short film, and that was tough enough. However, during this process we realised that approaching a movie in such a way presents numerous obstacles if, unless either stylistically relevant or left untreated, only serve to hamper the film’s quality. And this, sadly, is where Cut falls flat on its face.

I’ll breeze over the plot, more for etiquette’s sake than anything else. A group of friends return from a cocktail party to a house deep in the Peak District. After starting to settle down for the night they find themselves being attacked by mysterious harlequin-faced killers. There. Job done.

Now: imagine a big film set. Cameras, actors, lighting, sets, props, boom mics. The director, the producer, the cinematographers; the sound mixers, the set decorators, and countless other crew. The works. Now obviously, the large majority of this will be hidden off-screen, behind the camera. The audience will only ever see what the director wants them to see; namely, the actors and the mise-en-scène (a phrase used to refer to the scenery and props), and them alone. The director will then shoot all the shots he needs from that particular angle, and then everyone will up sticks and ‘reverse’ the shot to get the necessary shots from the opposite side . This has the effect of giving the illusion that the whole room (if indeed it is a room) is empty, whereas in reality, it won’t be.


Now this is all very well and good, because it means that all of the filmmakers and their equipment can be hidden at all times. However, if, in this case, the director reason chooses to film his movie in a single shot, it creates the fairly complicated issue of where to hide the assorted filmmaking gear so it all does its collective job whilst still remaining out of frame, and this concern is compounded tenfold (if not moreso) if the director chooses to film his movie in a rather poky house. Which, of course, is what has happened in Cut.

However, it seems that rather than spending the time trying to hide all the lighting and such in-frame but out of view of the audience (whilst still trying to maintain the relevant effect of the said equipment), Dominic Burns has simply just done away with everything. No non-diegetic lighting (in other words, the whole set is lit entirely by the lamps and lights seen within the film). No director monitoring what is being filmed – indeed, Burns actually plays a role in his own film. I’d be willing to bet that there’s no boom mic operator either, simply because chances are he wouldn’t be able to maintain his position behind the camera without getting in the way of the steadicam (look it up) operator. All of this results in a very messy film; characters that should be in view are often either so bright they become blown out, or shrouded in darkness due to the poor lighting, the dialogue consistently sounds tinny and echoey due to the presumably camera-recorded sound, and the pacing is terrible because there’s no editing to augment the tension. The whole thing is kind of an unmitigated disaster, which is a shame, because I really respect what they have attempted here.

And what makes this all the more frustrating is that they could have actually got away with it by approaching it ever so slightly differently. With a little bit of a rewrite, they could have pulled a Blair Witch and turned the camera into a character itself. By doing this, the film would still maintain its impressive single-shot idiosyncrasy, whilst naturally solving most of the aforementioned criticisms – both the lighting and sound wouldn’t be poor as such, they would be ‘authentic’. And replacing the large studio camera with a lighter, more manoeuvrable hand-held camera would allow for both rapid swish-pans and more fluid camera movements, which in turn would make the action sequences much more frantic. As it stands, they just seem clunky.


Speaking of timing, pacing isn’t the only time-related issue brought into light by the single shot. By filming it in ‘real time’, for once the audience gets a truly accurate sense of progression, and the screenwriters need to take steps to make sure the events of the film unfold accordingly. For the most part, this goal is achieved (a highlight of the film involves the camera lingering on a particular clock every time it passes it), but in a few moments it becomes glaringly obvious that the timing is inaccurate. One scene in particular springs to mind: after having drunken far too much, Mia (River George) has collapsed in a bed upstairs. Concerned for his friend, Michael (Dominic Burns) goes to check on her. After a mere three minutes of conversation (with a little bit of boob-groping added in for extra measure), Andy (Simon Phillips) bursts in wielding a metal ladle, having thought – without any discernible or logical reason – that something had happened to them. In the three minutes they were up there. Now to a certain extent this could be forgiven in any ‘normal’ film, because this sort of blatant discrepancy could be easily hidden in the edit, tricking the audience into thinking that more time had passed than actually had. Since Cut was filmed in one shot, however (and thus the timing was entirely accurate), this moment just seemed totally irrational.

The gore effects prove problematic, too. Having had no available time to apply more complex make-up and prosthetic effects, the most gore you’ll see is a little fake blood here and there (and obviously fake blood, at that. Having never murdered someone with an axe in their bedroom – spoiler alert – I wouldn’t know for definite, but I’m pretty sure blood shouldn’t run off a bedsheet like water off a non-stick pan…). A little disappointing, considering the subject matter, but mind you, I suppose in the scale of things this is a minor gripe, especially in low-budget movies such as this.

Despite featuring majorly in all of the posters and such, Danielle Lloyd’s role is mercifully short. Thankfully she only appears for about three minutes, and even then she only appears playing a character on television…so fortunately I managed to retain much of my sanity. Most of the other actors fare a little better, admittedly; Gremlins’ Zach Galligan the most. Mind you, to be fair the plot doesn’t require any of them to particularly over-stretch their acting muscles. As long as they can manage provocative, aggressive, arrogant and / or scared between them, then they’re set.

It’s an odd one, is Cut. From a film perspective, it’s not great; not by a long stretch. But from a filmmaking perspective, it’s astounding. The thing I find most impressive about it is, rather paradoxically, the thing that more often than not makes it as bad as it is; and this is chiefly the reason I haven’t rated it numerically: it’d just be too damn tricky to. It just seems to me that the time and effort spent choreographing and rehearsing such a complex shot would have been better used elsewhere; had the film been better lit, the sound better recorded, the pacing a little more varied it would be much better than it is now. As it stands, Cut’s ‘single shot horror’ distinction just doesn’t seem worth it.

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