25th Jan2018

‘The Cutlass’ Review

by Nik Holman

Stars: Lisa-Bel Hirschmann, Arnold Goindhan, Kirk Baltz, Rebecca M Foster, Michael De Souza, Gary Moore, Ruby Parris, Jonathan Agostini, Conrad Parris, Alister Edwards, Chris Paul Smith, Alexis-Marie Chin, Nicholas Subero | Written by Teneille Newallo | Directed by Darisha J. Beresford


On the southernmost Caribbean island of Trinidad, Joanna (Lisa-Bel Hirschmann) is a young woman not sure of her place in the world. While avoiding college applications, she has her hands full with her emotionally supportive, yet dying father, Jake (Kirk Baltz). One evening she hits the beach with her friends and limp-wristed boyfriend Tyler (Michael De Souze). While partying at the beach cabin, in walks a masked man with a gun and a machete. Al (Arnold Goindham) is a local thief who owes a huge sum of cash to a crime boss. In over his head, Al kidnaps the one white girl around, Joanna, in the hopes he can ransom her to pay his debts. Things only get worse.

The Cutlass is a fairly paint-by-numbers film set amongst the lush landscape of Trinidad. If you’re like me, I had to Google the island because I was clueless to its location. It’s refreshing to watch a suspense film set somewhere besides the backwater south or mean streets of the big city. I get bored with rednecks and gangsters.

On the technical side, The Cutlass soars as it sweeps us along the majestic cliff sides of this tropical paradise. First time director, Darisha Beresford, makes sure we see just how awe-inspiring the locations are. Fortunately, the cinematography is as impressive in its vistas as it is in close, personal shots. Rarely does an indie film look this beautiful. The score is equally impressive. Loud, bold, orchestral movements match the landscape. I don’t know the budget for this film, but every dime was wisely spent.

The Cutlass doesn’t lack for solid acting, either. The only “name” in this film is Kirk Baltz, who is easily remembered in Reservoir Dogs as the ear-deprived police officer. I’ve always felt Baltz was a strong actor who brought a lot of heart to his performances. After witnessing his role of the desperate father, Jake, The Cutlass only reaffirmed my opinion. I felt the true standout of the film was Arnold Goindham. Is he good? Is he bad? Is he just a guy over his head? I truly felt sorry for this poor schmuck. You don’t know if you like him or hate him, but you want to see him get away. He’s the perfect R-rated actor.

While The Cutlass excels on its technical merit, I still find it very hard to ignore some of its unfortunate artistic choices. First off, if you’re looking for a horror movie, The Cutlass is not for you. While that may be no fault of the movie, from the poster art, to the tagline, to the summary, this film markets itself as much more suspenseful than it really is. If I had to guess, I would call it more of a thriller/character piece. The only problem is that The Cutlass isn’t much of a thriller, either.

While the acting, cinematography, and score are all top notch, the script seems to be lacking that one important ingredient, stuff. Nothing happens in this movie. It’s a good thing the mountainous, jungle landscapes are so beautiful because otherwise there would be nothing to keep me interested. Without giving away spoilers, if every character just sat at home and watched a football game, this movie would have had the exact same ending. At no point does anyone’s actions have an overall impact on the story.

And can we talk about the rape? There is a rape scene; it isn’t graphic or tantalizing. It is brutal and quick, and then it’s over. The problem with the scene is that it hits you completely out of nowhere. This action is totally out of character. And the most glaring fault, there are no consequences from it. The characters involved simply move along as if nothing happened and I just can’t believe that is realistic. The scene didn’t disgust me or offend me. I just found it pointless and boring. There were only a couple scenes overall that rose any real tension, the initial robbery and a standoff with a crime boss where the threat of rape was real and yet didn’t happen.

While I praise the film for the exotic location, I found it difficult in many scenes to understand what everyone was saying. That isn’t really a knock on the film, you can’t watch a movie from a foreign land and expect everyone to sound like they’re from Delaware, but I feel like I might have had a stronger connection with the characters if I could have understood them a little clearer. It’s nobody’s fault but you can only re-watch a scene so many times before you throw up your hands and move on with that nagging feeling that something was missed.

Overall, I found The Cutlass to be a fine piece of cinema. This is the kind of film your local art house plays and the folks will walk out claiming to have found some deeper understanding into the plight of the poor or scoff at 500 year old imperial colonialism. And while those people are full of beans, if they happen come out claiming The Cutlass was gorgeous and full of talent, they will be right.


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