Watching Bad Day for the Cut is like watching two different movies. The first two acts provide a rather jolly, buddy-cop type revenge adventure with an overt focus on humour and character building. But the third takes a startling hard left into bloody, hard-hitting tragedy that, despite feeling some need to justify its actions, certainly leaves ambiguity about who exactly is the good guy in the situation.
Nigel O’Neill stars as Donal, a peaceful yet frustrated farmer who lives with his mum Florence (Stella McCusker) in rural Ireland. When he comes home one night to find her murdered during a break-in, he sets out to exact violent revenge on the perpetrators, joining forces with Polish immigrant Bartosz (Józef Pawlowski) to fulfil their mutual aims.
Compared to most revenge movies, Bad Day for the Cut does furnish itself in a surprising number of idiosyncrasies. The first, perhaps, is the offbeat way in which Donal and Bartosz carry out their violent sleuthing in an amicably casual mood, cracking jokes and wryly tracking down their prey as they go. The second is the way in which the story evolves to be more than just a revenge thriller (things are most definitely not as they first seemed). And the third is the way it involves itself in a somewhat gritty moral dilemma by its final minutes – one in which no ending could really be a cop-out.
The emotional arc of Bad Day for the Cut is devastating. It starts with a pretty dark premise, and gradually builds likeability before shattering it in an instant and ending on a fiendishly negative note. Chris Baugh manages to keep the action surprising and fresh throughout, gleefully defying our expectations up until the very last minute. It’s almost as if he’s playing it overly safe in the more generic by-the-numbers first half (hence the comedy); and then turning more serious to suggest that things are never really as simple as they are in the movies. In real life, people aren’t perfect; bad guys have families and death is messy – we can’t all have our happy endings. By the time the credits have rolled, we’re in an undeniably tough position as the audience. Which characters are moral and immoral? What will be their fate? And is the eventual outcome of the story justified – given all the details revealed throughout the runtime?
The film is shot in a wonderful variety of locations: the lush green of a forest; the bleakness of the seaside; a bright red campervan and many more. The constant diversity on show, combined with a slew of fantastic angles and mise en scene, helps to keep the action fresh and entertaining throughout. The violence, by the way, is fairly brutal – more than adequate to earn a BBFC 18 rating.
If I had to criticise Bad Day for the Cut, I’d do it on the grounds of originality. Although Baugh keeps us guessing throughout, and changes tones at will, there’s nothing on-screen that we haven’t seen before. There’s little wrong with that, persay, but despite the hard-hitting nature of some of the final scenes; there’s little tension on show apart from the audience’s own desires to see revenge carried out or not (depending on which way you align).
In conclusion, Bad Day for the Cut has its cake and eats it with bombastic glee. Partly a buddy-cop comedy, and partly a devastating Shakespearian tragedy, Chris Baugh’s debut feature is lean, mean, and viscerally thrilling. Just don’t expect to see something entirely new.
Featured image: Variety.