For how gray the Irish revenge tale “Bad for the Cut” feels, it’s surprisingly black-and-white. There are clear cut good guys and bad guys (and one woman), but who you root for depends on the time. Years before the movie starts, someone did something that later drives someone else to seek revenge. It’s this cycle, not its morality, that director Chris Baugh is interested in.
Even violence takes a back seat to these concerns. After I finished “Bad Day for the Cut,” I remembered it as brutal and gory. Looking back on it now, that’s only half true. The movie’s brutality is emotional and its gore is implied. It’s shown outright once, and even then only for a split second. Thanks to the cast’s enthralling performances, a split second is all it takes to rip your heart in two.
Nigel O’Neill leads the pack as protagonist Donal, the fiercely loyal son of Florence (Stella McCusker) who fills his days looking after his mother and their farm. One night, he drinks himself to sleep and wakes up to see a “fancy sort of boy” and his shadowy associate leaving his home. Inside, he finds his mother bludgeoned to death on the carpet, her mantle clock as the murder weapon.
Donal tries to continue his life in the farmhouse until two masked men break in to finish the job. In one of the movie’s funniest scenes, the hitmen fail and only one is left alive. His name is Bartosz (Józef Pawlowski) and his sister, Kaja (Anna Próchniak), is being trafficked by the same people who murdered Florence. Him and Donal build an uneasy friendship, becoming something like family before things fall apart.
Baugh blazes through their development with grindhouse efficiency, never lingering too long on a meaningful piece of dialogue or sentimental moment. Such expediency is good and bad. On the one hand, you get to the meat of the story quickly, but on the other, some of the characters feel undercooked. Kaja especially.
“Bad Day for the Cut” is an achingly melancholy story that’s funnier than it has any right to be. It can afford that humor, though, because it knows exactly what it is. It is not interested in violence, but the trauma it leaves behind. Plenty of revenge thrillers carry that message. Revenge is an empty pursuit, futile in its ends, but “Bad for the Cut” goes a step further: revenge is not only futile, it’s inevitable and endless. No matter who you gun down, there will be another to gun you down in kind.