College students Raz, Charlie and Jess are about to start work on their end of year Media Studies project… unaware of a malevolent force lurking deep below their sleepy town. A recent wave of apparent Cyberbullying and the disappearance of two local girls lead the group to an abandoned army barracks situated deep in the forests that surround the college. What they find there is a terrifying labyrinth of tunnels from which there seems no escape… and a dark figure hell bent on tormenting them. Hunted, frightened and lost, Raz, Charlie and Jess must now escape the barracks or suffer the unspeakable fate that awaits them.
Found footage horror is a strange beast. It can elicit raw emotion, adrenaline, and an ultra realistic surge of dread that can only be captured with this type of filmmaking. But it’s a subgenre beaten to death by monotony and oversaturation. All you need is a camera and a few thousand bucks to direct your very own Blair Witch Project. In reality, you’ll probably conjure up a boring mess of shadowy corridors and turbulent camera work. Your audience will become sick and confused as to what’s actually happening on screen.
Enter the team of media studies students in British director Warren Dudley’s The Cutting Room. Raz — portrayed by the cheeky, often hilarious, and boyishly handsome Parry Glasspool — takes control of the group’s year-end documentary project early on. He commands his two peers, Charlie (Lucy-Jane Quinlan), who masks her obvious adoration of Raz with bitterness towards his crass sense of humour, and the adorable third wheeler, Jess (Lydia Orange). They’re assigned the task by creepy professor Mark Kallis (TJ Herbert), who’s a little too kind to the girls and suspiciously rude to Raz. The trio decides on cyberbullying for their subject. A timely idea indeed, sure to make their would-be film emotionally manipulative and controversial. Professor Kallis recommends the team investigate the disappearance of Rosie Clarke, a local teenage girl who fled home after falling victim to cyberbullying.
Dudley supposedly worked with a £12,000 budget. That’s small, even for schlocky horror. Luckily, The Cutting Room possesses intrinsic qualities that can seldom be bought. It’s location, the dreary neighbourhoods surrounding East Whitton College, give the film character and naturally horrific environs. The thought of a teenage girl going missing here prompts true terror. Sad, old town british faces, the borderline perverted instructors, older men who “groom” young ladies. And that’s just the beginning. Sinister forces are operating beneath the neighborhood’s quiet aesthetic.
It’s important to point out a clever plot device in The Cutting Room’s found footage gimmick. Kallis’ pupils have also been tasked with filming DVD extras and behind the scenes material. Raz is constantly documenting the creative process, so the audience has a logical reason to be present during the entire ordeal. Genius idea, really, because these movies often frustrate when events become unbelievable, or point of view shots from phantom cameras start popping up. Levan Gabriadze’s Unfriended had one questionable scene, which unfortunately was its most crucial, favouring a cheap scare over consistency. Lazy storytelling through and through.
In a genre flooded with derivative ideas and carbon copies, it’s easy to fall through the cracks and churn out another forgettable blood-soaked mockumentary. This picture narrowly escapes the pack, because it actually scares.
There’s been a surge of these movies in recent years, some good and bad. Josh Trank’s Chronicle was among the best, an ultra cool superhero flick, it’s documentary style schtick resulted in a wonderful blend of brotherhood and explosiveness. No other form of filmmaking can show two best friends, one turned villainous by his new superpowers, battling it out in the clouds as they set a metropolis on fire. Hundreds of mobile devices float in a telekinetic sky, allowing the audience to witness the spectacle from several angles. Riveting stuff.
Dudley borrows heavily from the pioneering Blair Witch Project (1999). The prime use of spooky locations, woods after dark, decrepit buildings and tunnel systems. Underground horror seems to be evolving amidst the mundanity. Hopefully we’ll see more low budget efforts use their resources this gracefully.
Still shots of a screaming girl being dismembered (maybe eaten) by a masked killer. Shaky, barely lit crawls through a dilapidated army barracks, distant screams that Raz and his team can’t hear, but the viewer apparently can. A gruesome twist and reveal that only trained investigative minds will see coming. These moments, along with a charismatic lead actor, are what make The Cutting Room an effective horror film.