New Horror Releases: Director's Cut (2018) - Reviewed

Crowdfunding has changed the way that movies are made. The revolutionary practice of putting fundraising for films into the hands of the fans for rewards ranging from signed DVDs to walk-on speaking parts in the film has, to cite a few examples, given closure to dedicated fans of the Veronica Mars TV series, delivered a sequel to Super Troopers that was sixteen years in the making, and even courted controversy when used by established filmmakers like Zack Braff. For the most part, crowdfunding is largely the domain of indie filmmakers who otherwise may not have the means to realize their dreams and look hopefully to the free-spending internet masses for help. The new film Director's Cut is one such recent example, and it manages to put an interesting, if at times discomforting, twist on the premise of crowdfunded films.

Director's Cut is a crowdfunded film about a crowdfunded film called Knocked Off, a tepid thriller about a serial killer who imitates other famous serial killers from the past. Actor/comedian/magician Penn Jilette of Penn & Teller fame plays Herbert Blount, a crowdfunder with deep pockets, seemingly unfettered access, and an unhealthy obsession with one of Knocked Off's stars. Director's Cut is Blount's "definitive version" of the film, re-edited to feature his commentary and quite a few added and, for lack of a better word, enhanced scenes.

Jillette also wrote Director's Cut, and appears to be having the time of his life with a juicy character like Blount. To reveal too much about Blount would steer into spoiler territory, but he's the kind of oddball you'd believe would pay a vast sum of money just to hang around a movie set, and Jillette's performance is a big part of that. Director's Cut's director Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City) plays himself in the film, as Knocked Off's director, along with the film's stars Harry Hamlin and Missi Pyle. But every moment of Director's Cut clearly belongs to Jillette.

Much of Jillette's comedy has always been designed to make the audience uncomfortable, and Director's Cut is certainly no exception, to the extent where the envelope just might get pushed a bit too far. As the film goes on the mood turns dark and uncomfortable, never quite evolving into nauseating but certainly willing to flirt with the notion. The result is a lack of the genuine tension it is so clearly aiming for, replaced by a creepy uneasiness that lingers over the film. Those familiar with Jillette's persona (or at least, the one he presents on stage and in film and TV) will have no problem separating him from Blount, but that makes Director's Cut no less difficult at times to watch.

Director's Cut is a film with an inspired premise, a great sense of humor about itself, and one hell of a central character in Blount. But there's something about it that just feels wrong and leaves the viewer feeling a bit uneasy about the whole thing. It's not hard to see what Jillette and Rifkin were going for, and they certainly went for it, but it may have been at the expense of making a film that instead of being enjoyably creepy ends up just being creepy. This, unfortunately, holds the otherwise clever Director's Cut back from possibly being the next meta-horror classic. 

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-Mike Stec