“Cut Snake,” which is now in theaters, and on VOD on November 24, is a taut Australian thriller. Out director Tony Ayres’s film opens with Pommie (Sullivan Stapleton) getting released from prison in 1974 Sydney. He is determined to reconnect with Sparra (Alex Russell), his former cellmate, to pull off some crimes.
When Pommie turns up at Sparra’s job, they agrees to meet for a drink after work. Sparra’s expression as he waits outside the bar, however, indicates just how conflicted he is with his unexpected situation. He has just proposed to his girlfriend Paula (Jessica De Gouw) and is trying to put his past behind him. “That’s not me anymore,” he says at one point. But that night, as Pommie and the happy couple head out to a bar, it is clear that Sparra’s secrets are going to be revealed. Ayres ratchets up the sexual tension as all three characters exchange meaningful glances during the car ride. Moreover, once at the club, a drag queen teases Pommie, and bad things, including robbery, a ransacking, and assault start to happen.
It would spoil some of the pleasures of “Cut Snake” to describe too much of the twisty plot, but as Paula learns more about Pommie and her husband, she may wish she had not pried. The film is as much about the past impinging on the future as it is about the characters trying to maintain their true identities. As Ayres cross-cuts between Sparra and Paula tenderly making love, Pommie gets rough with a prostitute as an outlet for his rage at a situation gone wrong. As Ayres triangulates the relationships, the film’s tension comes from who Sparra will end up with: Pommie or Paula?
In the pivotal role, Alex Russell is sexy and vulnerable as a man torn in two directions by love and honor, past and present, good and evil, straight and gay. He makes Sparra sympathetic despite making some very bad decisions. Likewise, Jessica De Gouw conveys Paula’s emotional distress palpably as she makes a series of discoveries that cause her to reevaluate her relationship with her fiancé. Sullivan Stapleton also makes a strong impression as Pommie, and not just because he swaggers through every scene with a confidence that is seductive or scary, but because he embodies his own internal struggle with disappointment and pain.
“Cut Snake” may box itself into a corner before the film’s end, but it is a flinty little film up to that point.