Based on Susanna Moore's novel, In The Cut cruises through the bars and clubs of New York where a serial killer prowls the streets, cutting up the bodies of selected single white females. As the film opens, with 'Que Sera, Sera' playing as a lullaby for those who spurn rest, Jane Campion unveils a dreamlike soft-focus world with the hardest of centres.
Frannie Avery (Ryan), an attractive teacher, becomes embroiled in a police investigation after witnessing a man receiving oral sex beneath the Red Turtle bar: the woman involved will later become the latest fatality. When homicide cop Malloy (Ruffalo) asks her out for a drink ("Do you want me to lick your pussy? I've done pretty well everything"), Avery begins a perilous affair that will place her in grave danger.
While sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) frets about marrige, sex and restraining orders, Avery must deal with four men in her life; each of whom could well be the killer: Malloy, who asks her to masturbate after phoning in with details of the latest murder; his cop buddy Rodriguez (Damici) a man who attempted to kill his own wife; ex boyfriend John (Bacon) - a stalker and possible slasher and one of Fran's students, Cornelius (Pugh), who has a hard-on for John Wayne Gacey and a penchant for composing term papers inked in blood.
Quotes from Dante's Inferno, lines from poems and prophetic messages (the 'Last Exit' sign above the freeway, near the end), the colour red (The Red Turtle, the phallic lighthouse, roses, blood, Avery's dress leading up to the finale), the three of spades, a missing charm from Avery's bracelet...... words and images to establish motivation and identity, yet In The Cut is almost an anti-thriller cocking a snook at established convention(while playing along when it suits) and driven by a raw sexual energy that will astound those who laughed at Ryan's restuarant antics in 'another film'.
Here, Ryan is a dressed-down, sweaty and sensual woman who can take and give in equal measure, whether she's being licked or fucked, chaining her lover to a radiator and riding him to a frenzy, simply pleasuring herself with fingers or caressing her body with Malloy's ID card. She's part Jane Fonda (Klute) and part wanna-be night-stick hooker from Crimes Of Passion; a woman who is uneasy and yet almost comfortable in those seedy bars, displaying an identity crisis which starts within the walls of her smoke-free apartment - four walls and fixtures adorned with posters and ornaments that scream "Fuck me". It's a courageous performance, and one that's worth watching for the things we know Ryan can do superbly, as well as for her new bag of tricks. Joining her are the excellent Mark Ruffalo - soon to be an A-list player, no doubt - and Bacon and Leigh who become more than peripheral characters despite limited screentime.
From the opening credits - the bloody N trying to join Cut (I, The Cunt would have been wholly appropriate) - to the final dreamlike nightmare, In The Cut is a triumph for both director and her leading lady, though I fancy it will take several viewings before it yields all of its secrets.
In The Cut has caused headaches for the MPAA in America, re the basement scene where a woman sucks a fully erect penis. The screening I attended at the London Film Festival was uncut and I would imagine this will be the version that plays when the film opens in the UK on 31st October. A scary movie, for reasons not entirely related to the grisly subject matter.