In Cut Shoot Kill, Serena Brooks (Alexandra Socha) is an ambitious young actress who reluctantly signs on as the star of a low-rent horror film. While far from her dream job, and seemingly beneath her artistic aspirations, Serena understands the rungs of the Hollywood ladder. A leading role is still a leading role, after all.
The director, Alabama (Alex Hurt), has a reputation for intense shoots, working with his crew of backwoods filmmakers in the most desolate and remote of locations. Alabama believes the truth in the moment stems from an immersion into the story. No internet, no phone, no chance for intrusion. Or escape.
When the cast starts disappearing, Serena quickly ascertains that she will have to become her character if she wants to survive. And that this very meta brand of guerilla filmmaking could be far more sadistic than Serena’s agent ever alluded to.
Independent horror films have flooded the market over the last few years – terror and gore remains the most cost-effective genre – therefore it is always a pleasant surprise when you come across one that strives to jam a bit more insight into all of that bloodletting. Writer-director Michael Walker’s attempt to sprinkle a little Birdman over the slasher genre might fall a bit shy of that film’s pedigree, but it mostly hits its own mark spot-on.
As our lead, Alexandra Socha’s turn as Serena exemplifies the modern actor: you must first understand the character to become the character…even if your character is an eventual kabob in a podunk rural Pennsylvania town. Serena arrives with notes and dreams of elevating a mundane part, to liven it up with some flair. As the audience, we need to relate to Serena to buy into the insanity that follows, and through her own blind devotion to perfecting her seemingly mundane character, Socha effortlessly rises above typical horror heroines.
As Alabama, Alex Hurt feels appropriately intense, almost purposefully channeling Darren Aronofsky if he side-stepped into a horror franchise. While his crew feels rote and rather one-dimensional, Alabama is a character whose disregard for union safety protocols rings far more natural that it should. Toss in Phil Burke as cocky actor and former star, Blake Stone, and the film has assembled a stocked set of dysfunctional filmmaking tropes to play off of.
Cut Shoot Kill works its movie-within-a-movie concept with restraint, instead of contempt, for the audience. The narrative purpose permeates throughout the proceedings, and once the curtain is up, Michael Walker avoids the traps lesser films continually fall into by striving yet again to “fool” the audience.
In a summer plagued by a lack of originality, Cut Shoot Kill slashes the competition.
Starring Alexandra Socha, Alex Hurt, Phil Burke
Written by Michael Walker
Directed by Michael Walker