Victoria Brown, Arts and Entertainments Co-Editor.
Being from Northern Ireland myself, specifically a ‘culchie’ area, I am always excited to see productions that have been made here. However, I am usually apprehensive because our films tend to focus on, arguably inescapably, The Troubles. ‘Bad Day for the Cut,’ director/writer Chris Baugh’s debut, has elements of our turbulent political past, but it has so much more to offer. This gritty revenge thriller is full of emotion, humour, violence, and it comments on two contemporary issues specific to Northern Ireland: the legacy of The Troubles, and a surprising insight into human trafficking. Thrillers are not a genre I’m particularly drawn to, especially ones produced in Hollywood because I’ve become accustomed to the same settings, bloody violence, and empty plot-lines. They’ve lost their punch. What is different about ‘Bad Day for the Cut’ is a fresh but gritty setting, terrifyingly unpredictability, and abhorrence to Hollywood’s glorification and violent aesthetic. And I do love hearing our accent on the big screen – there is something wonderfully unique about our vernacular that prompts instant identification in a way Hollywood just can’t do.
The film follows Donal, (Nigel O’Neill) a farmer in rural Northern Ireland, who sets out on a revenge mission after his beloved elderly mother is killed by a mysterious stranger. Northern Irish films have a fantastic way of portraying the weight of our history through its tone, and ‘Bad Day for the Cut’ is no exception. We know that the murder of Donal’s mother wasn’t random, and more often than not murders here link back to the victims past during The Troubles, so Baugh sets it up for us from the very beginning.
Without giving away too much of the plot, Donal finds himself partnered with Polish man Bartosz, who is being forced into doing the criminal underworld’s deeds for the sake of his sister’s safety. This is an interesting aspect of the plot that I wasn’t expecting. Bartosz’s sister, Kaja is a victim of human trafficking. Donal poses as a ‘customer’ in order to get access to an apartment building in Belfast where this business is being conducted, and is able to rescue the poor girl. This is something I never really thought about happening in the city that I live in, and it was a shocking and uncomfortable eye-opener. It was also incorporated well into the plot-line. Hollywood thrillers have a habit of shoehorning in didactic-isms that have nothing to do with the film’s diegesis, but ‘Bad Day for the Cut’ includes it naturally.
This brings me to the legacy of The Troubles. Any Northern Irish person reading this will know that one of our most defining and problematic traits is the inability to let things go. Whether you have an Irish background, a Northern Irish background, or Republican or Loyalist, or however you choose to identify, we cannot seem to let things go. And perhaps this is what the film is commenting on. The antagonist Frankie Pierce, ruthlessly played by Susan Lynch, is the daughter of an ex-IRA man who was killed when she was five years old, and she has been driven by the desire for revenge ever since. She has an ‘eye for an eye’ attitude that many people in this country share. But that is the problem. Eamonn, a friend of Donal’s, says “It just fucking goes on, and on, and on.” Our knowledge of our past and present, along with the fictitious events unfolding before us, show that this is true. The daughter of a murdered man will kill who she believes responsible. Someone else will kill her for murdering someone else. And it just goes on, and on, and on. Frankie has a young daughter herself, who is probably no older than five, and the events that transpire in the film’s climax will no doubt affect her, perhaps in the same way it affected her mother.
Northern Irish people hold grudges. We may believe that we are just in these grudges, but that doesn’t help us move forward. My interpretation of ‘Bad Day for the Cut’ is that it is showing us how these unnecessary drives for murderous revenge hold us back from healing. To someone like myself in my early 20’s, The Troubles seems like another world. It is, and it should be. The older generation’s endless fixation on events of the past is holding the future generation back. It seems an almost tribal-like obligation to continuously take revenge on people who had a part to play in The Troubles, whether involved with paramilitaries or not. ‘Bad Day for the Cut’ ends with a longshot of Donal on a beach, beaten and bloody, staring out to the sea. My understanding of this shot is perhaps a little cliched, but what I took from it is the realisation that weight of grudges and revenge are small in comparison to the big world out there. The sea is often used in literature and visual mediums to emphasise depth, so maybe this film is asking us to look below the surface of our violent history, and to realise the impact it has further down the line.
Chris Baugh and his team have created something special here, and I am eager to see how his career progresses.
Director: Chris Baugh.
Starring: Nigel O’Neill, Susan Lynch, Józef Pawlowski, and Stuart Graham.