Arthouse auteur Jane Campion's adaptation of Susanna Moore's erotic suspense novel In The Cut appears at first to be a case of an overbearing filmmaker spinning embarrassing pretension out of material that should be more tawdry and titillating. Meg Ryan gives a dour performance as a stuck-up writing professor, and when Mark Ruffalo shows up as a cocksure detective who investigates a series of sex killings in Ryan's neighborhood, the two mumble and pout through what has to be the weirdest, most useless interview in police-procedural history. So it goes with much of In The Cut, which climbs over a pile of serial-killer movie clichés–most notably Ryan's sexually charged encounters with men who might be murderers–while maintaining such a somber, affected tone that none of the usual thriller pleasures manifest. What does burn through are Campion's rich color palette and her jarring shallow-focus close-ups, which intensify and distort the Hitchcock/DePalma look, and provide visual cues to her attempt to wrest Moore's story away from strict formula. In The Cut adheres to the tone and themes of Campion's Sweetie, The Piano, and The Portrait Of A Lady, all of which feature hard-to-love lead female characters in stories that explicate why women fear men. Here, the villain's M.O. involves giving women engagement rings before raping and beheading them, which is just about the most savage metaphor for marriage imaginable. The misanthropy plays on in Ryan's resistance to long-term relationships, traceable to memories of a philandering father. Campion puts all this over in a style drawn equally from grunge chic and magical realism, with multiple references to Virginia Woolf's stream-of-consciousness novel To The Lighthouse and a fairytale structure filled with objects of power (guns, handcuffs) and evil spirits hiding in the woods. And though the oppressive artiness makes the early scenes fairly ridiculous, the director's odd methods add rare tension to the climax, as it becomes evident that the finale won't be so predictable in Campion's hands. Granted, most of the kicks come late in the film, and are based on perverting formulas that work fine played straight, but Campion's sense of purpose gives In The Cut's rough sex and graphic dismemberment a keenness that even her more reputable earlier work can't match. Her heroine's terror isn't tied to death and violation, but to a fear of getting too close to the wrong man and becoming, as Ruffalo describes one mutilated victim, "disarticulated." For a strong-willed woman, there's no greater fear.
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