It probably goes without saying that writer/director Sam Salerno's Death by 1000 Cuts isn't for everyone, though I suppose I'll just say it anyway.
Writer/director Sam Salerno's Death by 1000 Cuts isn't for everyone.
The crowd that does appreciate the film, however, will really appreciate Salerno's darker sensibilities here and his willingness to craft a film that digs deeper than you might expect and says quite a bit even though you'll swear to yourself it's just a piece of experimental cinema.
The film stars Brett Burrier as a Vlogger named Johnny who approaches life as if it's a party he wasn't invited to. Haunted by recurring dreams about a tunnel that runs underneath a cemetery, he commits himself to uncovering his small town's deadly secrets.
The title Death by 1000 Cuts is, perhaps, best explained as a rather horrific double-entendre of sorts. It is best known as an ancient method of torture inflicting tiny, mostly harmless cuts upon a human body that become harmful only when cumulative. Similarly, but less well known, Death by 1000 Cuts can also refer to those relatively slight psychological issues that are often deemed meaningless as solitary issues yet when allowed to build up become something impossible to ignore.
Indeed, there is much that cannot be ignored in Death by 1000 Cuts.
It would be difficult to find a cinematic cousin to Death by 1000 Cuts, though the first film that comes to mind is Adam Wingard's early flick Pop Skull, an under-appreciated indie horror gem that I had the privilege of seeing on the big screen where it's horror could become truly traumatic.
There is much horrific about Death by 1000 Cuts, a film best set aside by the emotionally or physically squeamish. It's a low-budget but ambitious film, a film where Salerno obviously knows his limits yet makes those limits work to his advantage. Adrian Hernandez's lensing is immersive, practically suffocating, and I would nearly say that Hernandez's work here may very well be the best thing about the film.
I wasn't completely sold by Burrier here, who apparently also starred in Salerno's short film upon which this is based, though he's an intriguing actor and I'm anxious to see his other work. Rosie Koocher, on the other hand, is quite strong as Christina and both Victor Dubose and Daniel Gilchrist have solid moments to shine. As Dr. Moody, Erica Solitaire has a lingering edge that lasts past the closing credits.
Death by 1000 Cuts most definitely tells a story, and a meaningful one, though if you require your storytelling to go from A-Z without any detours you're probably going to find yourself mighty frustrated.
Salerno likes his detours.
From a gothic aura to bloody gore to psychological twists and body horror, Death by 1000 Cuts packs a lot into its running time and it's likely the kind of film you'll find yourself wanting to watch again just to try to figure everything out.
A solid indie horror effort from up-and-coming Sam Salerno, Death by 1000 Cuts taunts and teases, immerses and waterboards its way into your heart and your mind. It's most definitely not for everyone. Heck, I'm not even sure it's for me. But, Salerno sets out to shake things up and there's no doubt that shake things up he does.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic