'Raw Cut': Film Review

A would-be thriller that evinces barely a pulse. 

Director Zoe Quist co-stars in her own film about a country getaway that delivers far more than two vacationing couples expect.

It's commonly expected that a self-described "thriller" should deliver some, well, thrills, but actor-director Zoe Quist's self-indulgent first feature turns out to be practically inert. A perfunctory theatrical run prior to almost immediate video-on-demand release won't do much to improve home entertainment performance, however.

Making rather indifferent use of a spectacular Wyoming location, Quist introduces recently engaged Adam (Daniel Ponickly) and Stephanie (Quist), who have planned a week in the wild at Adam's new vacation home in the mountains and invited his college friends Jack (Christopher Soren Kelly) and Amanda (C. Ashleigh Caldwell) to join them. Now married (although Adam and Amanda dated in college) and going through something of a rough patch, they arrive hoping a change of scenery will improve their perspective.

Stephanie, who claims to be working on a graduate school "thesis" film, convinces Jack and Amanda to play along with her found-footage horror scenario, which will star herself and Amanda as two adventure bloggers shooting a wilderness video for their online program, stalked by a couple of "hillbillies" played by Jack and Adam. Scriptless, improvised scenes and dialogue sketch out a vague plotline, but Stephanie's insistence on recording all of the group's nonperformance activity and discussion on her DSLR camera for potential future use begins to creep out the guests. Her psychosexual headtripping, as she flirts alternately with both Amanda and Jack, exacerbates tension between the two, but it isn't until she introduces the "finale" for her film that Stephanie's bizarre intentions are revealed.

With a script so rudimentary it barely qualifies as such, filmmakers and co-stars Quist and Ponickly appear to be focused primarily on promoting their Lock and Monkey production company, along with their own careers. Assuming the lead roles as the self-absorbed, manipulative power couple, they dominate both screen time and plot developments, but neither their roles nor their performances are sufficiently stimulating to sustain interest.

The poorly contrived plot device that has Stephanie's supposed graduate film driving the action is so ridiculously flimsy that even rank amateurs will quickly ascertain that she isn't shooting enough viable footage to complete the project. The film's absurd concluding twist, telegraphed throughout by a repetitively ominous score but not by sufficient backstory, only serves to demonstrate the futility of the entire exercise.

Whether or not it's actually shot with a consumer-grade DSLR, the camera work can't capture a sufficiently dynamic range to keep exterior scenes from looking overexposed and interiors from appearing pointlessly murky. Otherwise, Quist's directorial skills are on a par with her acting ability: mediocre at best.

Production company: Lock and Monkey Productions
Screenwriter: Daniel Ponickly
Producers: G. Byron Speight, Daniel Ponickly, Zoe Quist
Executive producer: Fin Grey
Director of photography: Daniel Clarke
Production designer: Christina Landers
Editors: Erin Kelly, Tyler Wentworth
Music: Toly Ramirez

No Rating, 83 minutes