You know the type of gentle Sunday afternoon when you think, ‘I know, I’ll bung on a cheery Irish film about a middle-aged bloke stuck on a farm looking after his Ma’? Perhaps it was recommended by someone who recently left the planet – the sweet hearted Terminal Terry, say – and you invite Shiny Sally to enjoy it with you. Cos Shiny Sally is also a sweet heart with a gentle soul with no awareness that there is cruelty and rage in the world or ever a Bad Day for the Cut. (Dodgy weather, slang fans.)
First, the film features life on the farm. It is dour and grim. Nigel O’Neill gives off trapped and hopeless like a proper pro. His Donal is beardy, over-weight, fundamentally decent and way past the potential for sexy lady times. The county netball team will not be sending its mid-30s and up team round to share in his grouchy sensuality any time soon. Life is unfair: Donal makes very clear the agonies of a dutiful child with an elderly parent. Part of him must desperately want to do the awful and put her in a home (as I once said to young Steve, “Do it, bitch! I dare ya!”). Another part must be so stuffed with guilt at the first thought that he abnegates his own personality – and, fuck it, sexy lady times potential, for his clock is ticking too – to catch her when she falls and make the farm work.
Stella McCusker is Florence the Ma. She is spikily Celtic and snappily controlling of kindly Donal. She’ll let him pick her off the toilet floor and look away while she pisses (the brutality of the film stops short of other messiness), but she won’t let him take her out in a shiny new Scooby-Doo van he’s bought. He wants to take her to the beach she and his father knew…well, he gets there in the end.
So far, so grim. Passing a plate of Mad Maud’s fudge muffins to less-chirpy-than-she-should-be Shiny Sally, I apologised for the unexpected earnestness of the film. The farm is dark, the cinematography cool, beautiful and moody, the tension oddly domestic.
And then – boom.
Old Jack should have read the synopsis. I watched both the film and Shiny Sally tear off their masks and reveal the blood-soaked yearnings beneath. Donal is nodding off in his Scooby van – sulking professionally – when yelping and gunfire take him into the night: his Ma lies dead, her head stoved in with her own clock. Home invasion! Two nut-jobs with accents later drag him to the barn to hang him – only one is shit at measuring rope and Donal kills the other with a van bonnet and a spike.
(Beware this clip. It’s got violent grimness in it…remember, it’s pretend.)
Fuckety-doo-da! I knew something was wrong when Shiny Sally turned and smiled. “That was good,” she said. Old Jack shivered to the bone.
The rest of the film is a blood-bath of revenge killings, beatings and comedy torture as Donal takes the murder of his Ma really, really badly. The gear shift from down-beaten middle-aged carer – something a lot of us have been – to revenge-driven killer is wholly satisfying. The film knows what it’s doing and is winking in a bleak-hearted manner at us as Donal gets the story from the one he let live, Józef Pawlowski playing miserable, weak-willed Pole, Bartosz. Together they work up the organised crime ladder in search of mother-murderers…
There’s murderous fun to be had in grim pubs (murder with hammer), amongst trafficked prostitutes in one of those soulless and cheap apartments they give executives (torture by iron) and out in the woods (pans of beans and stabbings). David Pearse is spectacular as vicious little shit Gavigan – giving and receiving the viciousness. By the time the duo are on the run with Bartosz’s sharp sister Kaja (Anna Próchniak), an oddly under-developed couple I wanted more of, old Jack was emotionally beaten and stunned into submission. Shiny Sally’s eyes had gone pitch black; she was rocking; she was muttering, “kill the next one, kill the next one.”
(Beware this clip. It’s got violent grimness in it…really, put some effort into the pretendiness remembering.)
The plot goes loopy, but you don’t mind. It gets into family: Donal’s uncle (Ian MacElhinney giving instant gravitas and quality post-crawling stillness), the sins of Donal’s Ma (oh yes, that was always coming) and a shouty, terrifying Susan Lynch in full sexy evil-Queen mode as Frankie Pearce. They all work beautifully together as dysfunctional, bloodied and mean. Turn half the lights out and fondly take a road-drill to the Seven Dwarves and you’d catch the mood of Bad Day. Assuming the dwarves were all related to the Queen, Snow White and the mine’s unwilling prostitutes in a convoluted back-story that really needed a diagram over the end-credits. Ultimately, the plot is bittersweet and the film classily done.
So, what did old Jack take away from Bad Day for the Cut? Middle-age is harsh. Looking after a parent can be rough, and is a burden we neither expect nor process well enough when they’re gone. And it really fucks up our love lives. On the bright side, it gives you the level of vengeful callousness needed to wipe out the mafia. And remarkable dexterity with household objects as weapons of destruction. So, a lose-win, there.
Shiny Sally offered to make me a nice hot cup of tea and boil up some beans after the film. Old Jack here is fine admitting he refused – her eyes were still black – and hid in his room ’til Tuesday.
Watch this if you dare. It’s fun, bleak and black of comedy. If you’re a carer, perhaps watch it when they’re dead. Either way, it’s on Netflix.