“Sawed Off” feels like the offspring of “Groundhog Day” and “Evil Dead” — with more horror than humor; effective but not entirely satisfying.
The haunted/cursed/possessed trope is nothing new. As a result, it becomes harder for filmmakers to use these tropes effectively to engage viewers and pull them along with the film.
The trouble is, if you watch enough genre work, it becomes almost transparent what will happen to the characters. This is the case here as well. So, maybe it isn’t bad that the film doesn’t want to bake your noodle with a complicated story.
It’s well-made and well-presented. It takes time to ease you in with the characters, giving you a handle on their backstories and getting you invested enough to care about them.
After watching the trailer, I expected more dark humor, but that’s not really reflective of the story we get here.
The synopsis feels reminiscent of Groundhog Day or, most recently, Happy Death Day:
Two hunters, friends for years and vying for the affection of the same woman, find themselves on cursed land where they keep killing each other and coming back to life.
However, it’s not the humor of Groundhog Day the filmmakers wanted to emulate but rather the idea of a day repeating on loop with much darker undertones.
In Sawed Off, we explore the idea of what would happen if you kept dying and returning to life over and over again until nothing was left of your physical body to sustain your spirit.
The film centers around two friends, Jon (Jody Barton) and Frank (Trae Ireland). They have been invited by their mutual ex, Marjorie (Eva Hamilton), to spend the weekend in the woods at her new home, inherited from her family. We meet Jon first, following a lucid dream involving forest sex.
Jon wakes in what looks to be a single apartment, drinks from a bottle, and gets his gear together as he is picked up by Frank, an old school friend with whom he no longer feels any connection. Though they both share a love for hunting, it’s not enough to bring them closer or give them a reason to spend so much time together on this journey.
Marge begins preparing for their arrival. Once the trio comes together, we are treated to a great animated sequence that provides some important exposition. There’s an urgency to this scene, echoing the reveal of the cursed children’s story in The Babadook, and it works well to establish a history of bad goings-on.
All of this is layered on to the open wounds of Jon and Marge’s broken relationship and Frank’s own feelings in the background. Then the hallucinations set in, along with a general sense of foreboding.
Frank goads Jon, telling him to man up, get a grip, and kill something. Jon takes up the challenge, accidentally shooting and killing Frank in the process. Only, when he returns to Marge to tell her about the tragic turn of events, he finds Frank there alive and well.
From here, the Groundhog Day motif piece kicks into high gear.
This leads to escalating mutual violence between John and Frank until the final clue is given and the true nature of the House, the woods, and Marge is made clear.
Unfortunately, I feel this presented a missed opportunity. It’s a great buildup but fails to be as satisfying as I hoped.
There are moments of dark humor as the two frienemies slowly come to realize the truth of their predicament. We also get visual echoes of The Evil Dead, with some Shaky-Cam running through the forest scenes and a nice jump scare to boot.
Barton and Ireland play their parts quite well and are believable, and Hamilton does a fine job though she has little to do.
Ultimately, it’s a well-crafted and thoughtful film and certainly not a complete bust. But I didn’t have as much fun with this one as I expected, and I believe it could have benefitted from more of the dark humor teased in the trailer. While it may not blow you away, it’s got enough going for it to make it worth your time.