“The purpose of playing is to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to Nature” — Hamlet
Method actors are often romanticised and heralded for their intense efforts: Daniel Day Lewis refusing to leave his wheelchair or feed himself to prepare for My Left Foot, or Jack Nicholson residing in an active mental hospital for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But the famed acting technique has recently been interpreted as an excuse for sexist or abusive behaviour, such as Jared Leto mailing his co-stars dead animals for his psychopathic role as the Joker — read Angelica Jade Bastién’s insightful article on the topic. Cut and Chop confronts the precarious morality of method acting in its story of an actor who gets dangerously into character for his role as a crazed butcher. The film craftily interrogates the tenuous limits between art and madness.
Drew Hale, who also writes and directs, stars in the lead role of the terrifying thespian. After Tom begins reading a book Method or Madness? he starts to prepare for his part as a madman by glowering at others, stealing, indulging in sexual violence with his girlfriend, and developing a fascination with the local butcher. Kari Alison Hodge shines as the fearful Esmeralda who strives to find the best in Tom despite his erratic behaviour. Her friends, artists and stoners Gladys (Varda Appleton) and Burt (Shane Woodson) are also perplexed by Tom’s odd demeanour. However, they all rationalise actions because he is a “creative type.” Hale’s quiet, wide-eyed performance is intense and unsettling, bringing to mind an eerily subdued Christian Bale in American Psycho. His concentrated yet vacant stare makes your skin crawl.
As a director, Hale has an incredibly imaginative eye. The film is light on narrative and more of a collection of hypnotically horrifying montages that truly put you inside Tom’s fractured and volatile mind. Hale makes particularly expressive soundtrack choices. In one sequence, against soaring operatic music, he intercuts between Tom having rough sex with Esmeralda and close-ups of red, squelching meat under harsh fluorescent lights, thus equating the ample pleasures of sex and death. A bouncy 1950s-style doo-wop song underpins Tom’s fantasy audition where he undresses and cuts open a woman. In another, Tom vigorously chops up a body while loudly singing opera. Hale brings Tom’s sadistic daydreams to life with an idiosyncratic absurdism.
Cut and Chop displays Tom’s vile crimes with a smooth, steady precision that is truly unsettling before culminating in a shocking finale that is both stomach-churning and oddly hilarious. Hale has a singularly creative directorial vision that makes his surreal horror and dark comedy an intelligent dissection of the murky lines between reality and fiction as well as an insightful commentary on the lengths method actors should and shouldn’t go.
Cut and Chop is available on VOD now
by Caroline Madden
Caroline is the author of Springsteen as Soundtrack. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Baby It’s You, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She is the Editor in Chief of Video Librarian. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss.