The Taken formula is an easy revenge narrative: Some complicated mafia commits an injustice against an average person, and then that person (or a relative) has to take revenge by killing their way up the ladder. You can fill in any number of details for that formula and it would be essentially the same movie. The key to keeping the audience interested is through good storytelling and great filmmaking. Happily, Bad Day For The Cut has enough quality filmmaking that the lazy nothing of a background story takes a back seat to the thriller onscreen.
Donal (Nigel O’Niell) is a placid middle-aged farmer living with his mother in rural Ireland, a place so intimate that he can make do largely through fixing other people’s cars and living off the land. One day, he sees his ma get murdered, and then foils a hit places on himself, and vows to seek bloody vengeance with the help of a young Polish immigrant trying to save his own sister who is the victim of human trafficking. First-Feature writer/director Chris Baugh (and co-writer Brendan Mullin) keep the backstory intentionally vague to focus on the bloody vengeance. The film is rooted in the past, continuing a cycle of ongoing story of protection and violence, but the back story doesn’t appear until almost the final scene.
Chirs Baugh separates Bad Day For The Cut by fusing the familiar vengeance narrative with storytelling reminiscent of early work from The Coen Brothers. He spends a good portion of the first act to slowly build the characters, if not the story, into interesting and mildly quirky Irishpeople. The following two acts, he writes an inciting incident and then allows the characters to do their things until the very last frame. The story becomes a ball of momentum that cannot be stopped by anybody, least of all the characters in the film. They keep wanting to diffuse the situation, but it can’t stop.
Like the Coens, Baugh uses deeply black humor to punctuate the violence, though he never eases off the brutality of the scenarios. Sometimes the humor comes from surprise, and sometimes it comes from the juxtaposition of rural living and incredibly violent scenarios. Much like The Coens’ Fargo or Blood Simple, there’s comedy to be found in the darkest places. Unlike the Coens (and more like J.J. Abrams), the withholding of the backstory as a Mystery Box fails to deepen the tension or mystery and plays out like a hollow exercise in gratuitously misjudged storytelling.
Bad Day for the Cut is, ultimately, a style exercise from a first-time feature director. It’s confident but not cocky, stylish but not showy, and a blast to experience the first time but totally disposable entertainment. Maybe Baugh has more up his sleeve, and I’d like to see him do something that has a bit more meat on its bones, maybe something a bit more original. This above average formula movie functions as a great calling card, but that’s just about all it is.