A Thousand Cuts
Kino // Unrated // $24.95 // January 22, 2013
Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 12, 2013
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Rent It
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
Hollywood's
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hottest horror director is about to learn the true meaning of terror!!!!! *

Lance (Michael A. Newcomer) graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts with all sorts of flowery art house aspirations, but instead he fell into a ridiculously lucrative career as a splatter-horror hack. He's made more money than he can count by shitting out a torture porn series called A Thousand Cuts: y'know, the one about the nutjob who drugs his victims, slowly carves off slices of their bodies, and makes them watch in horror as each individual strip of flesh is removed. Maybe it's not classy or whatever, but the franchise has made Lance the rich and mighty Hollywood power player he is today, so fuck you.

Sure, sure, Lance stepped on all sorts of fingers on his way to the top, but one bit of collateral damage he never anticipated was the grisly murder of a cute college-age girl named Susan Bennett (Madi Goff). I mean, our douchey director never even met the girl, but the psychopath who mercilessly butchered her took every last one of his cues from A Thousand Cuts. Her father Frank (Michael O'Keefe) holds Lance personally responsible, and he's engineered his own brand of torture to exact his revenge.

Nevermind the Saw-style cover art. The torture is more psychological than anything else. There's very little blood. It's nothing I'd call a gore-fest, exactly. A Thousand Cuts isn't even a horror movie, if you want to get right down to it; it's instead a very literal debate about the impact cinematic violence has on the real world...about the culpability of filmmakers and software developers when someone
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snaps and commits the most horrific of crimes. In the wake of the shootings in Newtown, it's an unexpectedly timely discussion at that. The film is essentially a two character piece, with Frank and Lance each arguing one side of the debate. If you've seen Hard Candy, the structure is pretty much identical, from the friendly first meeting, the near-entirety of the film taking place in the accused's home, the tables turning on who's the tormented and who's the tormentor, some sense that the solution might be worse than the problem, everything not being quite what it seems...honestly, A Thousand Cuts draws so deeply from Hard Candy that the latter isn't a source of inspiration so much as flat-out Xeroxed.

One key difference is that Hard Candy is a tightly edited, unnervingly intense, and brilliantly acted thriller. Even with its barely feature-length runtime -- 77 minutes, with credits; 10 minutes less than what the promotional copy touts -- A Thousand Cuts meanders on endlessly. There are absolutely a couple of times when my pulse quickened and I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins, but when I say "a couple of times", I really do mean just that. Michael A. Newcomer and Michael O'Keefe infuse their performances with a great deal of emotion and intensity, and to a point, it works. When they start screaming at each other, though, they start to feel less like characters in a taut thriller and more like cartoons. I mean that in every possible sense with O'Keefe, whose Southern drawl is a mess and is one "varmint!" away from sounding like Yosemite Sam when he's at his most frenzied.

I really do like what A Thousand Cuts is attempting to do, and the violence debate is handled reasonably respectfully on both sides. Still, the movie is far too static, the balance of power mostly stays flat, there's rarely a convincing threat of imminent danger, an argument about the impetus behind a mostly-offscreen death of a barely-there character doesn't spark much in the way of emotional investment; all I could think was how indescribably more effectively Hard Candy attacked on every one of those fronts. Ugh, and although I absolutely get the meaning behind the final shots of A Thousand Cuts -- this comparison will only make sense to about eight people out there, but your James Wan analog turns into Tom Shadyac -- I can't help but roll my eyes just the same. Anyway, at this point, you can probably guess that I'm not coasting towards a wildly enthusiastic recommendation, so I'll just say Rent It, I guess, and move on.


Video
I can't say for sure -- there aren't any extras, and I'm way too lazy to do any research -- but it looks like A Thousand Cuts was shot with the 1080p24 mode on a DSLR camera...kinda like I Melt With You a year or so back. If my guess is right, that means the movie was lensed with a camera oriented towards stills rather than video, and that'd go a long way towards explaining how substandard the photography is.

A Thousand Cuts devolves into a pixelated mush under limited light. You know what they say about pictures and words and all that, so instead of rambling on, pop open this screenshot to full-size and look at...well, anything, but especially the darker side of the bearded dude's jacket:
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Another case-in-point with special guest star David Naughton, who I totally didn't recognize even though I've watched An American Werewolf in London eighteen hojillion times:

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Some shots are just straight-up trainwrecks:

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A Thousand Cuts fares better when it has a good bit of light to play with. It's still a good bit softer than average even at its best, though. Look at how flat and mired in noise the screengrab below is when expanded to full-size:

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From the fuzzy and interlaced look to the opening titles, A Thousand Cuts starts off looking terrible and improves little from there. Color reproduction is impure, edges and fine patterns flicker violently, the photography is noisy and unstable...I mean, I'm sure pretty much all of this dates back to the original production, so the authoring of this Blu-ray disc isn't to blame, exactly, but it's still far, far, far below average.

A Thousand Cuts has been slopped onto a single layer Blu-ray disc. The presentation is unmatted and has been encoded with AVC.


Audio
Blah. A Thousand Cuts' six-channel, 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio track isn't exactly curling my toes either. It's a perfectly serviceable soundtrack, but it doesn't deliver the sort of distinctness and clarity
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I'm used to hearing on Blu-ray. The subwoofer and surrounds are reserved almost exclusively for music. There are a handful of exceptions -- applause, panning sirens, crickets somewhere off in the background -- but the whole multichannel thing comes across as an afterthought. The score does coax a pretty nice growl from the subwoofer, unleashing a few really resonant booms when A Thousand Cuts is at its most intense. The recording and reproduction of the dialogue are adequate but thoroughly unremarkable. I don't have a DVD handy to do a direct comparison, but I wouldn't expect it to be a night-and-day difference.

A Thousand Cuts also piles on a 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio stereo track because...well, I have no idea why. There are no subtitles.


Extras
Essentially nothing.
  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): A high-def trailer starts things off...

  • Stills Gallery (HD): ...and rounding 'em out is a gallery with eight production stills.

The Final Word
Competent but only sporadically effective, A Thousand Cuts is a neutered (no pun intended) take on Hard Candy, shifting the backdrop to Hollywood and losing all the production values and intensity somewhere along the way. I wouldn't exactly call it torturous, but A Thousand Cuts is still too uneven to recommend with anything resembling enthusiasm, and the rough-hewn production doesn't make for high definition eye candy so much. Better off streaming. Rent It.


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