Frank’s (Michael O’Keefe) daughter was murdered by a psychopath who used an incredibly torturous technique that he learned in a film called, A Thousand Cuts, which was named for and featured an ancient method of torturous execution practiced by the Chinese, in which the victim is kept awake using drugs, often for days at a time, while a thousand cuts are sliced into their body. The’re kept awake so they can experience every grueling second of agony until they finally die.
After the trial was over, Lance (Michael A. Newcomer) went on with his life of fame and wealth, making sequels and enjoying life, even though he had followed every word of the trial and felt horrible about what had happened. Frank, with nothing left to live for, now blames Lance for the torture his daughter had to endure, and comes up with a plan to give him a little taste of the horror she experienced, by kidnapping Lance’s sister Melanie (Olesya Rulin) and threatening to do things to her that are just as horrible as what happened to his daughter unless Lance admits it’s all his fault and sacrifices himself to save his sister.
This film is actually a bit more involved than what’s in the synopsis here, but that should give you a pretty good idea of what’s going on. Now for the review bit…
I didn’t have high hopes for this film going into it. I had seen the trailer and it looked like some boring "thriller" that would have me feeling like I’d rather be at the dentist having a tooth drilled. Then I saw the opening of the film, which had me even less excited about seeing it. It used this really amateurish looking stutter effect that, well, about the best thing I can equate it to is that it’s about as welcome to see that in a film as it is to see a web page loaded up with animated GIFs. That effect, while at one time was overused in independent films, just as animated GIFs were overused on web pages, has largely, and thankfully, gone out of fashion. Unfortunately, no one told the makers of this film that. Just as unfortunately, the final bit at the end has the same effect going on. Neither bit has much to do with the main story though, so it doesn’t detract from the main body of the film, but needless to say, I wasn’t impressed with what I was seeing.
Then we get into the actual main body of the film, and it starts out with a party at Lance’s house. Booze, drugs, hot women, shallow Hollywood types and screenwriters looking for a break – you know…the whole nine yards. The purpose of this intro section of the film is to basically make Lance look like a jerk. The problem is, he’s not really a jerk. He has a sister he loves that he’s sent through college and he actually cared about what happened to Frank’s daughter when that whole thing happened, following every word and detail of the trial. We don’t find that out until later though, so the whole intial party scene feels a little pointless when you first see it, but will make more sense later, as it’s establishing some of the more negative aspects of the character, while also showing some of the good ones, like his love for his sister.
That’s when things get really bizarre. Not in the story, but in the film itself. Once Frank shows up and things start happening with the main part of the story, this film, that looked so amateurish at the beginning and then felt so pointless through much of the party, suddenly became this incredibly well written, beautifully acted thriller, and it continued to be that all the way to the end, with the exception of the little ending sequence that takes place after the events of the main story, and as such don’t really matter. So essentially, we have these amateurish looking bookends on this wonderfully crafted film that, once it gets going with the main story, sucks you in and brings a sense of tension and suspense that any great thriller should.
Now, let me tell you what this film isn’t. It isn’t a gory slasher film, or some torture flick, and I had initially thought it would be from the description. There is in fact very little gore in the film, and you could hardly call it gore. This film’s strength lies in its story, which really delivers the goods.
You can’t just have a well written story though and expect that to be enough. You need a cast that can really sell it and give depth to the characters, and that’s exactly what the leads, Michael O’Keefe and Michael S. Newcomer did. O’keefe in particular did an amazing job with his character, feeling both natural and real. He really became the father, tortured by the horrific death of his daughter and ready to die himself in his quest for revenge. Newcomer’s character, Lance, wasn’t a bad guy. He was just a guy who had been jaded by Hollywood, but there were still parts of him that were decent. He really felt bad for Frank’s loss and horrible about how the girl died, but he put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the guy who did it, and rightfully so. Frank didn’t want to hear that though, nor did he want to hear something else, which I won’t reveal here, but it was something that added even more to the character. That’s all I can say really without giving it away.
The production quality is really quite good in this film. The set design is great, the lighting and feel of the various rooms of the house really add to the story, and the video quality on the release is excellent, as is the sound. It’s lacking in special features, only including a trailer and a stills gallery, but with a film like this, you don’t really need them.
The long and the short of it is, if you ignore the extraneous parts at the beginning and end, and really focus on the main body of the story, A Thousand Cuts is an amazing thriller, and well worth your time to check out. I have never experienced a film before where I had such low expectations going in, and then had them lowered even further with the opening sequence, only to then be completely surprised by the brilliance that followed. Strange, I know, but I was really happy that my initial impressions were wrong.
If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Kino Lorber website here, and if you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself, you can get the DVD or the blu-ray releases from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.