Bad Day for the Cut is the type of B-movie genre exercise one wished Ireland made more of. Donal (Nigel O’Neill) is a middle-aged Northern Irish farmer who spends his days caring for his elderly mother, Florence (Stella McCusker). After she is murdered is a home invasion, her son goes on a quest for vengeance. In doing so, Donal becomes entangled in a criminal underworld. He also comes to the realisation his mam may have not been the innocent woman he had presumed.
A blend of the coolness and character work of Harry Brown with the grit and downbeat feel of Blue Ruin – Bad Day brings enough unique elements to the vigilante sub-genre to help it stand out from the pack. Nigel O’Neill is a noticeably more quiet and soulful figure than those who traditionally star in revenge films. Meanwhile, while one originally thinks The Fall’s Stuart Graham is the big baddie; he is revealed early-on to be only the assistant to the true villain Frankie (Susan Lynch), a female crime boss and sex-trafficker. It’s a real star-making turn for Lynch, she’s one minute vulnerable; the next frighteningly vicious. The actress makes her unconventional antagonist feel three-dimensional and realistic.
Why did Frankie want Florence dead? The film teases this out, parsing out information and then retracting it to build intrigue. As Bad Day belongs to a vast sub-genre of similar movies, while watching the viewer will presume they have cracked the mystery a few steps ahead of Donal. This then makes it especially great when the film subverts one’s thoughts and the truth is truly surprising and unexpected.
Writer-director Chris Baugh, along with screenwriter Brendan Mullin, keep the story tight. There is very little extraneous information about their characters, only enough to serve the plot. While the action scenes are stylised and taut, they never feel too unrealistic. There is no street-shootouts, no moments of bombast. The violence is grittier – mostly happening behind closed doors and in areas of vast emptiness (forests, coastlines) – making the lack of police presence more believable.
Another element of Bad Day which elevates it above other similar tales of vengeance is the central thesis. This is that acts of violence lead to perpetual cycles of violence. During the troubles, Frankie was wronged by Florence, leading her years later to seek revenge. Then, Donal sought revenge back – leaving more people, both guilty and innocent – dead. Although some could complain the third act of Bad Day is a tad messy, perhaps its grim, slightly open-ending serves to further prove this point.
Bad Day for the Cut is streaming on Netflix now.