Edgar is confused after finding himself in a mysterious institution where he is getting blamed for the death of his wife. Edgar tries to deny it, but as he appears to be in a loop of reliving the moment of her death over and over again, he is not so sure anymore.
Like oh-so-many review titles that come our way, I don't look into the movie much before I start watching. It's just more fun that way, and thanks to that "Cruel & Unusual" was a huge surprise. With a somewhat bland title (until you connect it to the punishment of the same name) I was ready for another crappy title for our grumpy little site. However, what I got was an intense and bleak movie that felt like a fresh take on the old "reliving a part of your life" plot.
Something is wrong with Edgar. He wakes up from blackouts in the most odd places. He mysteriously goes through a door and enters an institution, where gets blamed for killing his wife. He now has to pay the consequences, as he is sentenced to relive the day of her death. But what really happened that day?
While the idea behind "Cruel & Unusual" is not entirely new, the writing of director Merlin Dervisevic and Claudia Morris is just excellent. We're hooked for the ride and have no intentions of getting out until we have solved this mystery. It starts out as something rather mindbending, but still gives us enough info early on for us to get invested. As time goes on, the movie builds on the back story of Edgar and the people he meets in the institution. As we get acquainted with the day of his wife's death, we also start connecting dots that show different sides from everyone involved, and that the crime he was condemned for might not be so simple after all.
We desparately need more story-heavy low budget movies that actually succeed with what they attempt. "Cruel & Unusual" does exactly that. It's not explicit and it's certainly not clear cut, but the story and the characters are so interesting that I find it way more powerful than the majority of low budget thrillers. There is something extremely dark and sad about "Cruel & Unusual", yet it still manages to entertain us in a positive manner. It's not dark for the sake of being dark, and while the ending certainly isn't happy we still feel good about it. It's incredible to think that this "Twilight Zone"-esque thriller is Merlin Dervisevic's debut feature as a director.
If you want to get seriously invested in a simple, yet constantly evolving story of death, regret and acceptance then "Cruel & Unusual" shouldn't be missed. Its low budget does in no way hinder it, as it looks and feels great. The actors are all perfect for their roles. I don't want to spoil it too much, but this is a Canadian thriller that you shouldn't miss.