The Cutlass Review
The Cutlass is a 2017 dramatic thriller set in the tropical wilderness of Trinidad and tells the story of a young woman who falls into the grasp of a dangerous sociopath.
There’s a casual, almost detached sense of urgency in the opening twenty minutes of Darisha J. Beresford‘s The Cutlass that very nearly feels like the start of an entirely different movie, one more about the domestic troubles of a college-aged girl with some important life choices ahead of her than what it truly becomes. So involved in her personal complications, from her sick father to her undecided boyfriend, when a man with a machete enters the picture, it’s all the more jarring. It’s a deeply authentic experience, with two highly compelling performances in a film that deftly steers clear of convention.
In Trinidad, Joanna Soloman (Lisa-Bel Hirschmann) is avoiding college applications, feeling there is no point. She’s wrapped up in enough family problems as it is, her father Jake (Kirk Baltz) sickly and fading but supporting and trying to inspire. She joins some friends, including her boyfriend Tyler (Michael De Souza), for a get-together, a day mixed with the usual highs and lows of such, with she suspecting Tyler might not be as dedicated as she hopes. In the beach cabin, as the eight of them drink and party, in walks a masked man with a pistol and a machete. He’s Al (Arnold Goindhan), a troubled local thief already in over his head who’s here for their money but decides to take Joanna for ransom, in desperate need of big cash. Into the jungle he drags her, putting his plan together as he goes, but there are far more terrifying things in these parts than only Al, and now Joanna, already more clever than he suspects, must try and stay one step of ahead of him if she’s to get out alive.
The Cutlass, despite the familiar premise, is really anything but, a surprisingly reserved film stripped of most anything recognizable that the genre typical demands. Beresford, working from a script by Teneille Newallo, avoids larger set pieces and action-heavy moments weighted by a bombastic score in favor of a much more intimate showdown between these two people. Joanna, often bound and mistreated, sexually and otherwise, isn’t so much playing a mental game of joust with Al, but rather constantly moving what few pieces she has on the board to prolong whatever chance she has. Al is unstable, but not a fool. He’s brought her to a place in the forest where she could not survive on her own, and has two days to make his plan work, but in the meantime, exercises his absolute power over her with a distilled sense of menace, angry at so much in the world and what has left him to the position he is in.
Hirschmann, in her film debut, is a real wonder, natural and deeply authentic. It’s a physical performance, as she’s roughed up quite a bit, but she is more than convincing throughout. Goindhan too brings much to Al, like everything in the story, going places his trope-ish character might be expected to take us. He’s a man haunted, but he is in every sense of the world, bad. Beresford makes sure that is clear in a few harrowing moments that make no qualms about what we should be feeling, even as we see he is but a small fish in a very big sea.
The Cutlass is a feature length film (inspired by true events) expanded from a 2013 12-minute short, starring both Hirschmann and Goindhan and by the same filmmakers. The longer length works very well and Beresford deserves a lot of praise for keeping this as succesfully low-key as it is, keeping it paced and presented as if it here a found footage film of sorts with handheld cameras and constant movement. It’s not of course, yet is greatly effective because of how devoid it is of unnecessary flourishes that have come to populate so many big budget films of the like, full of manipulation. It loses a little footing with some intermittent narration that is too little to really matter and too much at times when silence would have worked far better. However, this is a smart and genuinely impactful debut from Beresford that deserves a look.
The Cutlass release on 12/12.
The Cutlass Review
Movie description: The Cutlass is a 2017 dramatic thriller set in the tropical wilderness of Trinidad and tells the story of a young woman who falls into the grasp of a dangerous sociopath
Director(s): Darisha J. Beresford
Actor(s): Lisa-Bel Hirschmann, Arnold Goindhan, Kirk Baltz