The Plot: In the working-class Dublin neighbourhood of Piglinstown, Michelle (Angeline Ball) runs the Deadly Cuts hair salon. She’s the mother hen to her brood of hairdressers – ambitious Stacey (Ericka Roe), sparky Gemma (Lauren Larkin) and the loveably dim Chantelle (Shauna Higgins). Community spirit is important to them, but forces are gathering against them. Gang member Deano (Ian Lloyd Anderson) is putting pressure on them to pay protection and the local councillor wants them out to make way for a gentrified neighbourhood. When a flashy hairdressing competition comes up, it’s time to turn up the heat on the hairdryer and fight back…
The Verdict: For many of us, the absence of hairdressers during lockdown was a source of frustration as we turned to dodgy DIY haircuts at home. When they re-opened, we breathed a sigh of relief and realised their importance. So, it’s fitting then that they should take centre stage for a new Irish film. If you’re looking for a film that champions their abilities and their contribution to the community… then sadly Deadly Cuts doesn’t quite cut it. That’s a shame really, as there’s something to admire about this plucky little Dublin-proud film with a big heart and a cheeky tagline of ‘no time to dye’ (ha-ha). The brainchild of first-time feature writer/director Rachel Carey, it’s a knockabout comedy that pitches its quartet of underdog hairdressers against thugs, the council and their own industry as they turn to deadly means to come out on top.
It starts well, establishing its quirky, identifiable Dublin characters and gifting Angeline Ball with one of her best roles since The Commitments. She holds the fort and is ably supported by her fellow cast members including second-in-command Stacey (there’s a military theme going on, given that they dub their town a warzone but still commit to it). The stage is set for a sparky comedy to lift the spirits of the nation – and then it takes a hard left-turn…. and a right-turn and another surprising left-turn at the end. It’s not too hard to pinpoint what the problem is. The tone of the film is all over the shop, along with the freshly-cut hair. It lurches awkwardly from comedy to bloody violence to over-the-top showtime extravaganzas. There are also bitchy former rivals who seem to have wandered in from another film entirely (Victoria Smurfit dialled up to 11, as if she was auditioning for a Christopher Guest mockumentary).
It’s a familiar case of aiming too high for a first feature and then not being able to control all the elements in this heady mix and make them deliver onscreen. The setup, environment and characters lay the narrative groundwork and Carey does a decent job at that. These women are resourceful and have a sense of humour about their work and status in the industry, so that theme of female empowerment resonates. When the laughs come, the audience is laughing with them rather than at them and that’s an important distinction. It’s how Carey uses her characters and how their story plays out that doesn’t convince. Did there have to be a predictable showdown with an old rival just to prove themselves to their industry? These characters are rich in detail and have a lived-in quality to them, but they (and the talented actors playing them) need a better script to serve them. Apparently, a TV series is in the works – which might be a more appropriate avenue to pursue. Deadly Cuts tries hard and gets some things right, but not enough to overcome its messy, bad hair day vibe.
Rating: 2 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Deadly Cuts (Ireland / 15A / 91 mins)
In short: Bad hair day
Directed by Rachel Carey.
Starring Angeline Ball, Ericka Roe, Lauren Larkin, Shauna Higgins, Victoria Smurfit, Ian Lloyd Anderson.