Sawed Off begins with a nightmare sequence before diving into more human issues as Jon (Jody Barton, Ugly Sweater Party, Captors) makes an infrequent return to his hometown for a hunting trip with his old friend Frank (Trae Ireland, Fortress, Tales from the Other Side). Complicating the awkwardness the years brought on is the fact they’ll be hunting on land owned by Jon’s ex Marjorie (Eva Hamilton, Skinwalker, Cabal) whom Frank also has some history with.
After a lot of awkward questions and a lot of avoiding actually answering them, Frank and Jon head into the woods. It doesn’t take long before the tress attack Jon. Or maybe he just hallucinated it as he finds suddenly finds himself in a clearing. That’s only the start of a series of odd occurrences that lead to Jon accidentally shooting Frank. And Frank returning from the dead, complete with a hole through his chest.
Director Hunter Johnson (Irrational Fear, Serena Waits) co-wrote the script with Barton and they load Sawed Off’s first act up with all the unresolved issues between the trio and the various emotions lurking just under the surface. I almost expected it to turn into another variation on The Most Dangerous Game at one point. Instead, the script gives us some odd symbols on the wall of Marjorie’s house and a story about a curse on the land around it. That’s told in what looks like a very limited version of the animation used in a-ha’s video for Take On Me. Despite being so limited it’s still effective.
And it’s that curse, mixed with the issues I mentioned earlier that drives the rest of Sawed Off. Frank can’t believe that Jon accidentally shot him. And Jon knows Frank stabbed him in revenge. But neither of them stays dead and it sets a bizarre chain of violence. The film’s publicity describes it as The Evil Dead meets Groundhog Day, but for most of the film, it feels more like Death Becomes Her, played straight and on a much lower budget.
Despite that low budget, Sawed Off does manage some bloody effects, including a hacked-off arm and a chainsaw decapitation. We also have someone walking around minus that arm, bloody stump in view. They’re not the best prosthetics you’re likely to see in a film this Halloween season, but they are practical effects and Oliver Poser (Amityville Karen, Of the Devil) makes the best of the limited resources he had to work with.
In any case, the film focuses as much on the characters and their reactions to what’s happening filtered through their suspicions. Is this intentional? Did Marjorie lure them up here to kill them off? Or maybe Jon wants to eliminate a rival now that he’s back. Or are they all the victims of a curse that was waiting to claim more lives?
We do get answers in the final act as well as some elements lifted from The Evil Dead Cinematographer Richard Trejo (The Second Age of Aquarius, Stalk) even emulates some of that film’s look, including the shaky cam POV shot in the woods. It’s disappointing to see Sawed Off get so derivative, but at least we get a cool-looking demon played by Cristobal Hernandez (Split Lip, The Tax Collector) and voiced by Charles Chudabala (40uR, For Jennifer).
I’d be lying if said Sawed Off couldn’t have used a bigger budget and a more original final act, but it still comes off better than a lot of go in the woods and die type movies. Fans of microbudget horror will enjoy it. And there’s enough in the way of action and effects that more mainstream viewers should too.
Uncork’d Entertainment will release Sawed Off on Digital platforms as well as DVD on October 11th. And if you want more films like it, you can check out FilmTagger for suggestions.