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D: Chris Baugh / 99m

Cast: Nigel O’Neill, Susan Lynch, Józef Pawlowski, Stuart Graham, David Pearse, Anna Próchniak, Stella McCusker, Ian McElhinney

Donal (O”Neill) and his mother, Florence (McCusker), live on a farm on the outskirts of a small town in Northern Ireland. The pair keep themselves to themselves, and seem to be contented with their lot. But when Donal does go out one evening, he returns to find a stranger leaving the farmhouse and his mother dead inside. Some time later, Donal is surprised by two hooded intruders who attempt to kill him as well. He turns the tables on them, and coerces one of them, a young Polish man named Bartosz (Pawlowski), to help him track down the man who killed his mother. The trail leads to a prostitution ring run by a woman called Charlie (Lynch). Soon, Donal and Bartosz are both hunters and hunted as Charlie targets them, and a game of cat and mouse ensues, one that reveals an unexpected connection between Florence, Donal, and Charlie, and events that took place around thirty years before, events that have a major bearing on Florence’s murder and Donal’s current predicament.

A tough and gritty Western transposed to the wilds of Northern Ireland, Bad Day for the Cut is a modest amalgam of revenge motifs that makes the most of its equally modest production values and its sparsely populated locations, and which benefits further from good performances and Baugh’s measured direction. Along with co-screenwriter Brendan Mullins, Baugh (making his feature debut) has constructed a movie that harkens back to so many other, similar movies from the past, but which still maintains an identity all its own. Donal is a familiar figure, the man rendered alone through the death of his family and consumed with anger. It makes him determined and uncompromising, but Baugh is careful to avoid making him a murderous automaton. When Bartosz reveals that his sister, Kaja (Próchniak), is one of the girls in Charlie’s stable, Donal allows himself to be sidetracked in his mission to make Charlie pay for his mother’s murder. Despite his need for revenge, Donal retains an innate honesty and sense of morality that he fights hard not to compromise. As the beleaguered Donal, O’Neill is a quiet force of nature, taciturn for the most part but capable of moments of irredeemable violence; you wouldn’t want to be trapped in a camper van with Donal and a hot saucepan.

Like all good thrillers, Donal’s quest for revenge doesn’t go as planned (partly because he doesn’t really have a plan), and partly because there are things he doesn’t know, things that he only becomes aware of as the movie progresses. These things stop the movie from being too simplistic, and they also allow the character of Frankie (played with unrestrained vitriol by Lynch) to become more than just a matriarchal monster figure. Baugh plays up the rural isolation that Donal leaves behind in his search for vengeance, but thanks to some well chosen locations, keeps him acting in isolation (even while being helped by Bartosz, who has his own agenda), and adrift from any semblance of a normal life. There’s a real sense that even if he does succeed in getting his revenge, it won’t mean that his grief will be assuaged. Against this, the movie does have a wry sense of humour, and is often funny in a “you-shouldn’t-laugh” kind of way that offsets those moments where the violence is busy being harsh and inflexible. Tough and unyielding then at times, Baugh has managed to put together an agreeable thriller that overcomes several narrative stumbles (which ultimately don’t hurt it as much as they should), and in doing so, he emerges as a director to watch out for in the future.

Rating: 7/10 – with wonderful cinematography by DoP Ryan Kernaghan, and a straightforward approach to the material that works wonders, Bad Day for the Cut is an enjoyable Irish Western that pays due respect to its genre inspirations; anchored by a terrific performance from O’Neill, it’s also a movie whose narrative doesn’t feel forced (except once), and which never tries to be smarter than it already is.