Cut Snake is an Australian thriller, directed by Tony Ayres and written by Blake Ayshford, set in 1970s Melbourne. Starring Sullivan Stapleton and Alex Russell as two ex-cell mates with a hidden past; one trying to move on, and the other looking for a partner in crime.
Merv ‘Sparra’ (Russell) has been out of prison for a few years, met a beautiful girl, Paula (Jessica De Gouw), and settled down to get married and try to create a better life for himself. But when his cell mate from his prison days comes knocking, Merv is left in a difficult situation as he tries desperately to do the right thing, but falls back into old habits. It doesn’t help that his old friend James ‘Pommie’ (Stapleton), is a charismatic, conniving, and short-fused man with enough leverage over Merv to put a few cracks in his life. After James implicates Merv in a robbery, the two return to the scene of the crime for a little pay back after Merv and Paula’s house is trashed. It’s then that Merv finally lets his old self overcome him; he beats two men until their faces are bloody and broken, and lets his guard down, revealing his past romantic relationship with James.
Sullivan Stapleton is compelling as James; the jealous and cunning ex-con with a hidden agenda. You can see every single emotion building up and almost bursting out of Stapleton every second he is on screen. Stapleton’s imposing stance and genuinely frighting stare sell James as an intensely scary and unpredictable character. But you can see all of this soften when Merv is around, which is confusing until the truth behind their relationship is revealed. Alex Russell’s boyish looks are the perfect counterpart to the rugged and somewhat dishevelled James. Merv and James are complete opposites; with Merv’s calm and collected nature taking the sporadic James down a notch. The two have this chemistry that is complex and captivating; you can’t really make sense of it, but you understand that it works.
Alongside this mostly chaotic relationship, the thrill of cut snake is created by the uncertainty that builds in every scene. You are never sure how James will react or what Merv will do to stop him, or sometimes, to help him. We are left wondering if James and Merv will kill each other in a bloody fight to the death, or if they will run off together to live a life of crime. This uncertainty is what drives the film, leaving the audience always second guessing their predictions and looking for clues that give them some sort of idea about how the chaos will end.
There are elements to Cut Snake that seem kind of unbelievable, and mildly comical. For example, the detectives chasing James, whose over-sized suits, broad Australian accents, and bright red faces give them an almost comical nature that sheds them of their credibility as serious police officers. But there are some truly compelling moments that are gripping and heart wrenching to watch. While Cut Snake seems a little out-of-this-world, the twisted love story mixed in with a life of crime makes for an interesting film. And for a first time feature from Ayshford, whose credits include McLeod’s Daughters and All Saints, Cut Snake is a testament to the seasoned TV writer.