Deadly Cuts (
I Blame Society ) (
Slalom ( ) )
I would have offered long odds that two of my favourite films of the year so far would be comedies and an astronomical price that they’d both be set in the world of hairdressing. Hot on the cha-cha heels of my SXSW number one pick Swan Song comes another salon gang from Irish writer/ director Rachel Carey. Deadly Cuts is a crude, chaotic and very funny movie set in a ladies hairdressers in a rough Dublin neighbourhood.
The scenario is familiar. A group of people coming together to save something from disappearing. In this case it’s not just their hair salon that’s under threat but all of the local shops, as a seedy councillor plans to use the area’s high crime rate to force through a regeneration project. In order to achieve their goal the Deadly Cuts crew need to put the salon on the map by winning a national hairdressing competition.
To add to their troubles the hairdressers are also under the thumb of gormless local thug Deano and his gang whose protection racket threatens to sabotage their plans for the ludicrous, but entirely believable, Ahh Hair! competition and its primped, pumped and preposterous judge D’Logan.
It’s riotous stuff with the tone set right from the start with the inclusion of Belfast’s rebel rappers Kneecap’s C.E.A.R.T.A on the opening credits. The ensemble cast are wonderful with an easy rapport and a depth of character that suggest a life before and after the time we spend with them here. In some ways the film is reminiscent of a big screen version of a sitcom and it wouldn’t be a push to see Deadly Cuts spinning off into a series.
The film keeps moving at a cracking pace and director Carey works wonders with what was obviously a tight budget. It doesn’t all come off but that doesn’t matter. Some of the plot mechanics might be a little too obviously signposted and some jokes don’t quite land but when you’re loading gags by the shovel that’s no particular surprise. But be warned, for a laugh-out loud comedy there is a surprisingly high body count.
There’s a higher body count in I Blame Society, a kind of mumble-core meta-slasher about a frustrated film maker in Los Angeles. Gillian, played by writer/director Gillian Wallace Horvat, is an aspiring director who has found it impossible to get any of her projects off the ground. Frustrated by her inability to get her foot in the door she takes a half-compliment from a bored associate that she’d make a good murderer and decides to run with it and make that the subject of her movie.
Using the format of a video diary I Blame Society has the aesthetics of a found footage film - with much of the ugliness that that suggests – and the narrative arc of a prank show. It’s more underground no-budget than low budget and its charm will depend on your tolerance for the quirks of the lead who walks a fine line between engaging and annoying. Tonally it’s reminiscent of Patrick Brice’s Creep 2 (and if you found Desiree Akhavan as video-artist Sara in that too much you might want to save yourself from further punishment here) or another Mark Duplass project Baghead which featured Greta Gerwig who’s indirectly referenced in this film with an apposite Frances Ha gag.
I Blame Society is never quite as clever or as funny as it thinks it is and takes an age to really get going but for those who stick around for the second half there’s enough drama to carry it through to the finish. There are some good gags about the film-making process, including a pair of comically clueless producers and there are some well staged set pieces. It’s self-indulgent, occasionally incoherent but refreshingly idiosyncratic and will hopefully provide the obviously talented Horvat with a platform for another feature.
Slalom has been billed in some places as a #metoo movie which perhaps reveals its narrative but it is a far more sophisticated movie than can be summarised by just a simple hashtag.
Set amongst picturesque alpine slopes, Slalom tells an all too familiar story of a talented, trusting but insecure youth being manipulated and taken advantage of as a promising 15 year old skier is sent to a training hot house where she is groomed and eventually abused by her mentor.
The material is impeccably handled by writer/director Charlène Favier who used her own experiences growing up in the ski-town of Val-d’Isère as the root of the story. Each step along the way is precisely timed, each moment is perfectly gauged. Noée Abita, in her first lead role, is superb as the teenage Lyz in a performance that needs to range from the euphoric high of slalom competition success on crisp white snow to the abject low of her abuse in a dimly lit changing room. Jérémie Renier gives a career best performance as the predatory trainer Fred providing just enough charisma to be believable before his character’s own vulnerability and ugly vanity slowly rises in all its repugnant inevitability.
It isn’t an easy watch but Favier has delivered an incredibly mature film, beautifully shot and thoroughly compelling.
Deadly Cuts screened as part of the Seattle Film Festival and will receive a wider release later this year. I Blame Society and Slalom are both available now on various digital platforms.
Main image: Angeline Ball, Ericka Roe, Lauren Larkin, Shauna Higgins in Deadly Cuts.