When the mother he both lived with and doted on is violently bludgeoned to death in an apparent home invasion, middle-aged and seemingly mild-mannered farmer Donal (Nigel O’Neill) takes his shotgun and newly restored campervan and sets out from their remote farmstead looking for answers and revenge. What he comes to find is both a big, brutal world of corruption and manipulation and a secret concerning his mother’s past that rocks his very foundations, changing his life irrevocably.
Thus is the central premise for Bad Day For The Cut, a unique revenge thriller that is the impressive feature-length debut of writer/director from Chris Baugh. The film captures something of the current trend of new wave rurality in British cinema whilst at the same time playing within the shadows still cast across Northern Ireland by the Troubles. Despite impressing audiences and critics alike on the festival circuit – including Sundance, where it earned the achievement of being the first feature-length film from Northern Ireland to be presented there – Bad Day For The Cut has somewhat slipped under the radar in terms of general release, but I’m here to tell you that it really is well worth seeking out.
With its winning mix of almost Coen-like thriller tropes, sturdy social realism, and unique Irish flavour, the film feels both palpably real and almost poetic. Whilst it is unmistakably a genre piece possessed with an insightful meditation on the corrosive nature of revenge, Baugh walks the tonal tightrope with an ease which belies the fact that this is his sophomore offering; skilfully ensuring we do not intrude too much upon the necessary, messy violence that would have otherwise tipped this into torture territory. Indeed, as is often the case, the brutality is often tempered by unexpected moments of humour, giving the film a rich though understated seam of black comedy.
At the film’s heart is the character of Donal, or ‘the farmer’ as he is often referred to by his enemies throughout the film, superbly played by O’Neill. When we first meet Donal it is clear that, despite being well into middle age, he has never had the courage or inclination to sever the ties that bind him to his mother’s apron strings. His life is a simple one; he spends his days working in the fields and restoring an old campervan he has taken in part exchange at the start of the film. This trade-off is quite a key scene actually, as it suggests that (certainly in his mother’s eyes at least) Donal is something of a pushover, and these suspicions are enforced in a later scene when, over a quiet pint and a tentative, naive flirtation with the barmaid, Donal’s relationship with his mother becomes the subject of much jeering and mocking from a drunken youth. Despite this unadventurous life and a propensity for being a doormat, you get the feeling that Donal is quietly content, with only the faint desire to right the course his life now and get out there before it is too late. Of course, the film’s great irony is that it is the cruel destruction of all that he knows that will ultimately provide Donal with just such an opportunity, and Baugh wisely explores both this new lease of life and the notion of vengeance with each step down the rabbit hole his protagonist undertakes in search of the truth and his own brand of wild justice. What’s remarkable about our hero is that, despite his bewilderment in the face of human trafficking, prostitution, and organised crime, he seems surprisingly unaffected by much of the rigours of revenge. There’s a sense that the no-nonsense mindset required for his rural life, combined with the simmering frustration at the years his life lay dormant, has effectively equipped him for the task ahead. It is a task he shares with a young Polish man, Bartosz (Józef Pawłowski), who is searching for his trafficked sister Kaja, and at times a pleasing, almost buddy movie aesthetic is grafted onto the proceedings.
Of course, no such film would be complete without an antagonist, and Bad Day For The Cut has a malevolent peach of one in the shape of Susan Lynch’s Frankie. It’s refreshing to see a crime boss being played not only by a woman but by a mature woman who is also a doting single parent! There’s an obvious self-confidence that stems from a woman who rules with an iron fist over the men in her employ (and there’s a great scene where she informs her daughter that she’s ‘surrounded by silly men’) – one that both increases her threat to the proceedings as well as heightens her natural sexual allure. I’ve been a big fan of Lynch’s ever since the infamous Cracker serial To Say I Love You and it’s always a joy to see her play bad.
As a brutal, darkly humourous and poignant study of the cyclical, destructive nature of revenge, Bad Day For The Cut is a striking genre piece that suitably bookends Donal’s narrative journey in its conclusion whilst leaving its strands suitably loose in that once you undertake such a path, you cannot really stop.