The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - THE CUTLASS | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (VOD) - THE CUTLASS

the cutlass review
While holidaying, a tourist is kidnapped by a desperate man.

Review by Sue Finn

Directed by: Darisha Beresford

Starring: Lisa-Bel Hirschmann, Arnold Goindhan, Kirk Baltz, Rebecca M Foster

the cutlass poster

Based on the true story of a kidnapping in Trinidad and Tobago, The Cutlass comes to us laden with socio and political undercurrents that I will not presume to have much knowledge of. It is based upon the usual haves/have-nots scenario, and the bitterness and resentment that can build in that heated situation.

The first thing I was struck by when watching this film is the beautiful cinematography; clearly this dual island is blessed with utterly breathtaking views.

There are appealing open plan homes and vistas, different from the average indie movie, which certainly makes it stand out among its more ‘contained’ peers.

We start with watching Joanna (Lisa-Bel Hirschmann - in a star making turn here) getting dressed for a day of fun. Her voiceover assures us that safety is important to her and that she’s grateful for all she has as some people have nothing at all. She also drops in that her father is dying of cancer and that it makes all her life decisions seem superfluous in the face of that.

Rushing out the door, she and a group of friends pile into a jeep for a fun-filled beach adventure.

the cutlass

Meanwhile small time thief Al (Arnold Goindhan - impactful and menacing) is harassed by local henchman saying he owes ‘the boss man’ money, and time is running short.

Their lives couldn’t be more different.

Continuing to contrast the two, Joanna is shown going for a surf while Al just grows drunk and belligerent.

Joanna’s boyfriend Tyler (Micheal De Souza - adequate) is being distant, and she feels threatened so stays out longer than intended; but she’s caught the eye of Al who later watches the frivolity of the group with jealous anger.

When the friends move their fun to a beach-house, Al crashes the party in a balaclava, armed with a cutlass and a gun. Terrorised, the young people accommodate his thieving demands.

Unfortunately it’s not just wallets he’s here to steal and impulsively he takes Joanna, leading her out into the forest.

She’s not dressed for the terrain and her beachwear adds to her ordeal - navigating the jungle in shorts and bare feet.

The decision to involve the police from the beginning adds a sense of reality to proceedings, as does the muted way the investigation is handled. There are no hysterics here, just a sense of time ticking away ominously.

Joanna’s anxious parents are told to ‘stay put’ as racial divides become clear, but in a very cinematic side-plot, her father (Kirk Baltz) chooses to take part in the search himself, taking ineffectual boyfriend Tyler with him.

Elsewhere, Al takes her to a shack in the jungle where she is completely at his mercy whist he awaits a big cash ransom from a family already battling with debts and expenses, such as Joanna’s future college costs and paying medical bills for her dying father. Al, having clearly spent his life without it, now wields his power over her with distinct pleasure; he likes to be ‘The Man’.

the cutlass

At this point the film becomes more of a character piece, taking the time to allow Joanna and Al’s interactions happen seemingly organically, and in no rush to get to the next action piece. It’s an unusual stance to take in a film where some ‘thrills’ are expected, but due to strong turns from both Hirschmann and Goindhan it mostly works.

Al tells of his life, events that shaped him, which he dealt with violently, all leading towards a time for him when kidnapping this woman made sense.

Al is by turns sympathetic and ambivalent. Joanna is nothing to him but a pay cheque, but towards the end he commits an atrocity against her that turns any understanding you may have harboured to dust.

Joanna in turn is not just the ‘rich white girl’ he saw, but has hidden depths of strength that help her to hold her own and get her through this nightmare. She is always level headed and we never see her do anything ‘silly’ to undermine our connection to her.

Both characters are richly nuanced and realised by screenwriter Teneille Newallo. The script is fair and gives a balanced insight into a world I haven’t seen before, though I would have liked to see a stronger ending than the one we have here.

the cutlass

Directed by Darisha J Beresford in an almost documentary style, there are no fancy directorial flourishes or swelling music to add drama; the story is allowed to unfold in a realistic fashion, which does at times give it a diluted feeling but for the most part is effective.

The acting by all is natural and believable.

The titular cutlass is connected to two stories featuring Al’s late brother, one memory a good and comforting one; the other, recalled later in the film, is perhaps a more telling story of Al’s fractured state of mind and his cynical view of society and his own future in it.

There seems to be a racial and class divide in this Caribbean nation that leads to kidnappings such as the one featured here, but this film at least suggests that we all have a story and the assumption of a person's station in life is not always the correct one.

This movie is not ambiguous about who is wrong or right, that is clear; but it does ask us to look at society's role in creating its own monsters, and maybe there is some merit in that.

The Cutlass is on VOD December 12th.