Cut-Out Girls is an important message movie from writer-director, Nicola Hanekom and actor-producer, Grant Swanby, creating social awareness around gender violence issues such as: date rape and rape culture. Based on Hanekom’s award-winning stage play, Cut-Out Girls is a small film with a big heart and knows how to throw a punch.
Cut-Out Girls follows a doubles team of aspiring tennis stars, who stumble upon a performance-enhancing drug. Mike is led astray and ensnared by his best buddy and teammate, Kevin, who propels the two into the “date rape” of several women. This multi-character drama shows just how easily one can fall prey to would-be rapists and how objectification of women is perpetuated in machismo culture.
A solid ensemble of up-and-coming actors resume their roles from the play and deliver thoughtful performances aided by their pre-existing history. Joel Rosenblatt and Cody Mountain play the perpetrators, Mike and Kevin. Both handsome and talented, these actors tackle difficult performances that force them to adopt the inherent ugliness and perversion of their characters, while trying to keep them relatable. The likable Rosenblatt plays a sports jock, reminiscent of Chris Klein’s easy-going, people-pleasing Oz from American Pie. As difficult as it may seem, Mountain has less of a moral conscience as Kevin, daring his teammate to serve as his accomplice and acting without regret.
While brave to undertake these challenging roles and simulate these acts, Cut-Out Girls is a team effort. Anni and Clea, played by Atlanta Johnson and Ashleigh van der Hoven respectively, are a couple who become their first targets. A boxer and photographer, they become victims of “date rape” and portray their independent characters with real humanity in an emotionally devastating scene. Chloe Papademetriou and Keziah Gabriel play the perpetrator’s blissfully ignorant and doting girlfriends, who are equally vulnerable, while the striking Meghan Oberholzer navigates a subplot, which could have become a film in itself.
“Just one drink…”
While sincere and reinforced by noble intentions, Cut-Out Girls has a naïve representation of its offenders and victims. The offenders are made out to be serial rapists, not giving them enough background and throwing them in the deep end as a devil-may-care doubles team who trawl the same night club. Hinting at what sent Kevin on this downward spiral would’ve grounded the character, who otherwise simply comes across as evil incarnate. Their immersion is a mystery at first and makes it seem like they’re treating “date rape” as a normalised recreational activity. A slower escalation and more texture could have gone a long way to anchoring the realism of the drama.
Then, Cut-Out Girls is also a little heavy-handed at times with some contrivances that are convenient or difficult to believe. More thought around the execution of their picking up women at clubs and their flagrant disregard for real-life consequences would have bolstered the realism and the every-man connection. Operating mostly sober and with no moral compass, the young men become despicable villains in a click, rather than presenting the possibility that they were normal guys at one stage. Distancing the perpetrators undermines the power of the message, which should serve as a cautionary tale to all men. Mike’s journey attempts to harness this drive, but it’s muddied by circumstance and comes too late in the game.
The subject matter is treated with sensitivity, inferring rather than spelling things out, which can and does invoke stronger reactions. Hanekom has done her research and while many would expect Cut-Out Girls to turn into a revenge thriller… the hard and sad truth is that most victims don’t pursue retribution through murder or at all. Keeping the drama tethered to reality, she’s able to bring the ugliness and trauma of rape through in an impactful way that should serve as compulsory viewing for high school and varsity students.
In a similar way to Chronicle, Hanekom is able to leverage the power of the message through: solid performances from a young cast; well-composed cinematography; capturing authentic moments; using her resources wisely and via an eclectic mix of shooting styles. While filmed on a shoestring budget and under considerable time constraints, she’s managed to create a film with clout that tackles issues most films avoid. While a little heavy-handed and naive, Cut-Out Girls remains a brave, important and respectable indie film. Considering the enormous challenge of adapting and bringing this indie drama to life, it’s sheer existence serves as an achievement in and of itself.
The bottom line: Respectable