Heart of Darkness


Starring: Jason Vail, Nicholas Wilder

Review written by Robert D. Patrick

The claustrophobic trappings of an office job. A cubicle as big as a lion’s cage, containing the guttural roar of a desktop computer’s whirring fan. That’s the real horror, some may say. The dowdy, monochrome world of the everyman, where neckties become the frozen hand of a clock; swiveling chairs become ball turrets; and your hand becomes a down feather pillow.

In Gut, the obsequious repetitions of the average Joe are worsened, deliberately or otherwise, because the office has no point of reference. What is the business for? What is it called? Is it an insurance agency? A tax company? An exporter of paper? Since the office has a shapeless face, it seems to exist only as a malady.

In the middle of the aforementioned doldrums, Tom (Jason Vail) has acquiesced to the notion that he is perfectly miserable. Lost and wanting to get away from his job, our protagonist has become less enamored with the tilted axis of his world. Working with him, only several feet away, is his best friend Dan (Nicholas Wilder). Once his pal from childhood, Tom is excavating contempt for his wonky and snarky best friend. The two are drifting apart – that is until something arrives in the mail.

To give too much – or practically anything – away would be an egregious disservice to the film’s dramatic turn. What one can say, however, is that the proceedings are dark – very dark. Gut is an exploration of the repugnant, barbed things within. And though at first it may seem like Joe Swanberg trying his hand at another V/H/S segment, Elias, the director of Gut, is running his fingers over something more meditative. The serpentine, slow-drip of his film may throw some hyperactive horror fans off into the brush, but those who burrow in are in for a treat (I reluctantly use the word “treat”).

The enigmatically named Elias probes the repressed, salivating desires of our carnal shadows. If mankind isn’t distracted by formalities and civil obedience, does it sprout claws and gnaw on its own sinews? What’s the message here? “The package just came to me; I didn’t ask for it,” one of the visibly shaken main characters laments, capitulating to his fears. Is this an indictment of humanity’s lack of accountability? Maybe an allegory about the violence of war, and how it affects families, particularly when they didn’t want to be part of it?

Basically all of the aforementioned philosophical knife throwing could just hubbub, but even if it isn’t, the film provides a good forum for conversation. For some, Gut will be a pretty linear, straight forward horror picture. But for doubtless others the film will be something more.

See a special engagement of Gut at San Diego’s Digital Gym, 6/15 at 10:00 pm. This showing is anchored by the director himself.

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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