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Simon Read [Celluloid 04.29.19] Denmark thriller

This claustrophobic thriller from Denmark is the first feature from director/co-writer Rasmus Kloster Bro. Old-fashioned ‘trapped-in-a-box’-style scares fuse with a streak of social commentary, but Cutterhead can be enjoyed simply as an effective thriller about a group of people trapped underground in terrifying circumstances.

Photojournalist Rie (Christine Sonderris) is covering the construction of the Copenhagen Metro. The film opens with her descent by industrial elevator down into the underground site, where she begins to interview the workers. Most seem uninterested in her project, though Ivo (Kresimir Mikic) and his assistant Bharan (Samson Semere) at least provide candid responses to her otherwise bland line of questioning - “What do you like best about your job?”

Rie is introduced to the Cutterhead, a huge mole-like drilling machine which slices through the tunnels and is entered through a series of pressure airlocks. Ivo runs maintenance on the equipment and invites her to take a look. Suddenly, disaster strikes, and Rie, Ivo and Bharan find themselves trapped in the Cutterhead airlocks. Facing intense heat and a rapidly dwindling air supply, they must work together to find a means of escape.

Cutterhead works on multiple levels as both a survival film (a very unsettling one), and a comment on privilege enjoyed by the white-collar European classes over blue-collar immigrants and workers. The latter point is almost incidental when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts of the story, but it’s very much there in the background. Rie is described pointedly at the beginning as coming, “from the offices”, yet she attempts to override security and safety protocols early in the film on the basis that, “I’m allowed to go anywhere I like.” Ivo and Bharan both speak of their reasons for working the Cutterhead, which we are assured is a particularly dangerous and uncomfortable job, as being purely financial - they need the money, they have family and debts, respectively.

At several points this divide is brought to our attention, and it’s a theme which runs through the film. Rie is educated and intelligent, but also self-centered and ignorant. Her interest in the project is purely professional, and once things go wrong she has few qualms about doing what she must as a means of self-preservation, even at the expense of others. But then, the film poses, wouldn’t you?

Moral philosophy aside, Cutterhead provides some pretty incredible tension and suspense. As Rie is given a ‘breather’ device and has the mechanics of airlocks explained to her, the audience is given some obvious foreshadowing, but this also helps us to understand later on why the characters can’t simply open the door and walk outside.

There is a somewhat agonisingly protracted third act to the film which, at a scant 84 minutes, makes it seem longer than it is. For anyone who felt uncomfortable during Neil Marshall’s enduring film The Descent, the last thirty minutes of Cutterhead may induce a mild anxiety attack. It was very nice to step outside afterwards, and just breathe.

Recommended Release: Buried

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