Bad Day for the Cut (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
An appropriate double bill with Jeremy Saulnier’s “Blue Ruin,” the gritty revenge-thriller “Bad Day for the Cut,” written by Chris Baugh and Brendan Mullin, directed by the former, makes a familiar statement regarding the cycle of violence, what it does to the person inflicting it and how it impacts those around him, but the work is able to find fresh notes in order to remain compelling. These notes often take the form of very dark humor—like a person falling to his death a funny way, being pummeled with every day appliances, a person failing to heed one’s own advice which leads to severe repercussions, and the like—and these are executed with verve, irony, and purpose. But that is not all. There is a mystery worth uncovering in the middle of this story.
Donal wakes from a strange dream of his mother (Stella McCusker) vacuuming in the forest. He thinks he heard her scream for help and so he steps out of his newly painted van to investigate. He sees a fancy-looking man (Stuart Graham) stepping inside a vehicle but unable to chase it down. So, Donal runs inside the house and discovers that his mother has been murdered. He thinks, at first, it is a simple case of wrong place, wrong time robbery. That is, until a few days later when two men are sent to murder Donal but making it appear as a suicide.
Nigel O’Neill plays Donal, an aging single farmer who is very close to his mother. The screenplay makes it clear that Florence means everything to Donal and so when he decides to avenge her, it feels like the natural conclusion for this particular character. O’Neill ensures to portray Donal not as a rabid dog in thirst of blood but as a complex person who must face being abandoned. It just so happens that the abandonment angle of the story involves honor and an eye for an eye. Although a story of revenge, Donal is never portrayed as an action hero—which is the correct decision because his vulnerability and lack of physical prowess allow tension to accumulate. One false move and it would be his turn to be buried in an unmarked grave.
There is a curious relationship in the film: Donal and Bartosz (Józef Pawlowski), one of the men sent to kill him in cold blood. Although there is no excuse for Bartosz’ actions no matter how difficult his circumstance, at least in my eyes, the screenplay finds a way for us—and Donal—to empathize with him. This character, too, is a source of black humor. Like Donal, the young man is also an inexperienced murderer. Throughout their time together, we observe the two men forge a partnership, perhaps even a sort of friendship. Bartosz is a symbol of hope for the lonely Donal who is grieving and does not have friends. He wants to connect but unable to. Perhaps there is something to other people’s claims that Donal is too close to his mother. It can be inferred that maybe he has a tendency to shut out everyone else.
“Bad Day for the Cut” is a twisty revenge picture but also a character study. It is an unusual combination, but it does wonders when done right. As is the case here. The central mystery—why the frail old woman is killed—is teased with appropriate length and later given clear, satisfying answers. Performances are all committed coupled with a rhythmic dance between shocking (read: delicious) violence and black humor. In other words, the picture is entertaining in an unconventional way—which makes it fresh, exciting, and a joy to sit through.