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There's not a lot of patience for the true slow burn horror film these days. Everyone seems to want murder and spraying blood and beautiful young women in various states of undress, all hurtling forward at a hundred miles an hour. But there's a place for the patient unfolding of events, the feeling of dread and disquiet, and slow buildup to discomfort and horror. Gut is one such patient horror film.
Tom and Dan (Jason Vail and Nicholas Wilder) are old friends from childhood, who now work together. They're big horror film fans, and used to spend a lot of time together watching them. But these days, Tom spends a lot more time at home with his wife Lily and daughter Katie (Sarah Schoofs and Kirstianna Mueller), slowly drifting away from his friend. Their friendship gets even more strained when Dan finds out that Tom and Lily are looking to move away. He's afraid that his only friend is slipping away.
So, Dan comes up with a plan. He's recently gotten hold of what appears to be an honest to goodness snuff film, and asks Tom over to watch it, not revealing what it is. He thinks this might rekindle their horror film connection, but Tom is disgusted by the film. However, despite his initial disgust, he becomes strangely obsessed with the video, which shows the bare stomach of a woman which is sliced into. He asks Dan if he has another video, and watches that one too. Tom goes back and forth, prurient interest and disgust. Eventually, he demands that Dan destroy all of the videos and breaks off their friendship. Things end poorly for everyone.
While there is blood and gore in Gut, it is used more to get under the skin than to shock. But mostly, director Elias just cranks up the tension and never really lets it off. The circumstances of how Dan acquired the video put Tom in fear for his family. It appears that whoever made the video knows who Dan is, and by extension who his friends are, and enjoys playing games with them. Could Dan himself be the killer, and simply be lying about getting the video mailed to him?
Gut thrives on ambiguity and dread. Just when Tom thinks he's extricated himself from the mess he's in, he finds himself wrapped up even tighter. The cast is small, and the performances are quite good, though perhaps a little uneven. In the scene where Tom breaks off his friendship with Dan, neither actor seems to quite get to the emotional depths necessary. On the other hand, both Vail and Wilder absolutely kill it in the films climactic scene, with Vail particularly delivering a raw and believable turn.
The film is definitely not going to be for everyone. If you're looking for a thrill a minute roller coaster ride, Gut is not for you. But if you want some subtle relationship horror that keeps you guessing and maintains a quietly creepy atmosphere throughout, then you could do a lot worse. Gut is Highly Recommended.