Studio: Horizon Movies
Director: Charles Evered
Writer: Charles Evered, Marty James, Eric Barr
Producer: Audrey Loggia, Kim Waltrip
Stars: Michael O’Keefe, Michael A. Newcomer, Olesya Rulin, Jimmy Van Patten, David Naughton
A grieving father takes revenge on the horror filmmaker whose movie inspired his daughter’s murderer.
Since the success of his “A Thousand Cuts” horror movie trilogy, Lance Ross has devolved into a stereotypical Hollywood hotshot. When he is not snorting cocaine through hundred dollar bills, misogynist Lance is offering college tuition as an incentive to disrobe or is pushing a screenwriter into the pool when he tires of the conversation.
Frank Bennett is a grieving father. Although his daughter’s murderer is patiently awaiting an injection on Death Row, Frank still has rage to satiate. The copycat killer designed the college girl’s death on Lance Ross’ “A Thousand Cuts” torture horror epic. Now Frank wants Lance, the one man TMZ highlight reel, to pay for his role in inspiring the brutal crime.
The real-world version of “A Thousand Cuts” is less of a horror film and more of a home invasion hostage thriller. There is very little blood or violence, as the film aims to be more about psychological torture than the physical variety. It also wades in a little commentary about fictional violence inspiring real-world crime. Except “A Thousand Cuts” does not plant a flag on either end of that debate, which translates to fumbled attempts at suspense when the audience is similarly unable to choose a side that it might care about.
Lance is pre-painted as such an insufferable jerk that the arrival of someone willing to torture him is a welcomed thought. If nothing else, that change of pace will end the eye-rolling over his boorish (and boring) behavior. But “A Thousand Cuts” chooses the strangest moment to flip his character, which is as soon as his tormenting captor enters the scene.
Pretending to be an electrician, Frank makes it onto Lance’s property and the director invites him inside for a beer. As he engages the phony electrician in genuine conversation, Lance’s behavior is 180 degrees in the opposite direction of his drug-addled party antics. He is welcoming, hospitable, and beginning to lean towards likeable. The connection between these two men is not yet exposed and there are already second thoughts about wishing harm to befall Lance.
The conflict begins when the reason for Frank’s revenge-fueled visit is revealed. The man who truly murdered Frank’s daughter has already been tried and convicted. Still needing someone to blame, Lance makes as sensible a target as any since his film inadvertently provided the details for the crime. That logic is already flimsy, but it is additionally difficult to side with the father since courtroom justice has already been served. Further adding to the challenge of seeing things from Frank’s vantage point is that Lance starts making a lot of sense.
Although he spent the evening funneling coke up his nose, Lance offers a sensible monologue about how his movie is not to blame. At best, the fictional “A Thousand Cuts” is a cowardly killer’s poor excuse to justify an action that would have taken place even if the film never existed. He may not have felt guilt or responsibility, but Lance was still deeply affected by his movie’s association with a heinous act. Lance followed the trial religiously, remembering every detail about Frank’s family life and the tragic circumstances around the unfortunate death. Far from heartless, Lance cared about everything that transpired and never exhibited a flippant attitude toward the murder.
Frank still elicits some sympathy in spite of his misguided motivations. The loss of his job led to his daughter’s residency in an unsavory part of town. He blames himself for creating the environment that led to her situation. It sounds like a sad situation, as sound is all there is to go on. Since the daughter died offscreen and Frank is first met as a singularly focused avenger, there is no emotional investment in his suffering.
At the same time, there is no real reason to view Frank negatively. Frank talks a bigger game than he puts into practice. He does not do anything truly sinister to Lance and he is only physical when Lance makes a move against him. For a large part of their confrontation, neither of the men are physically restrained at all.
Frank and Lance are not so much engaged in a physical confrontation as they are locked in a battle of ideas. The story is about each man having a different viewpoint on the same event and imparting that perspective on the other. “A Thousand Cuts” hamstrings itself though, by putting each of their viewpoints on an equally shaky house of cards and failing to draw a line that would convey emotion on an audience.
There is a concept here, but the characterization is not right. Both characters exhibit moral decency as well as faulty brains and skewed perceptions. Without a concrete hero or a concrete villain, there is no satisfaction in seeing anything in particular take place. There can be no suspense when there is no investment in any specific outcome. “A Thousand Cuts” loses itself in a story that is afraid to be truly provocative. Lance and Frank do not even have full confidence in their own convictions to seem like interesting threats, let alone edgy sociopaths, which ensures that the audience will be equally ambiguous about whatever happens between the two. And not feeling strongly about either character’s plight means not feeling strongly about the movie in general.
Review Score: 40