Dublin City University, Ireland
Deadly Cuts (Rachel Carey 2021)
Deadly Cuts, written and directed by Rachel Carey, produced by Auveen Lush, Ciara Appelbe and Liz Gill for O’Sullivan Productions with funding from Fís Éireann / Screen Ireland, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) and Virgin Media was acquired by Netflix Ireland/UK and has secured an international release with a planned opening over St. Patrick’s weekend in USA (Wiseman, 2022). The project was pitched at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2017 and was screened as the closing film at the 2021 Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival illustrating the importance of development and exhibition support structures at all stages of a film project.
Set in the fictional Piglinstown, (and filmed on location in a northwest suburb of Finglas in north Dublin) the film centres on the eponymous hair salon owned by Michelle (Angeline Ball), adopting a mostly comedic approach to the threats of gangland violence, gentrification and working class struggles. However, Piglinstown is, for the most part, not portrayed as a place to escape from. Rather, strong ties illustrate the importance of place and community.
The shops in Piglinstown, including the eponymous hair salon, are under threat of redevelopment as apartments and a hotel dubbed “Piglinstown 2.0”. The project is driven by corrupt local councillor Darren Flynn (Aidan McArdle), who funds a local gang led by Deano (Ian Lloyd Anderson), using their behaviour as an excuse to redevelop the area under the guise of improvement. “Deadly Cuts” takes on a second layer of significance when Michelle and her young staff’s vigilante defence of the salon from Deano, leads to the latter’s demise, dispatched by a pair of hair scissors. Having incinerated his body in the neighbouring butchers shop, Michelle and her young female hairdressing staff are led to believe that winning an Aah Hair! hairdressing award will stop the redevelopment. The salon duly wins the award (incidentally vanquishing Michelle’s demons from a disastrous mishap at prior award ceremony) only for the staff to realise that Councillor Flynn has no intention of keeping his promise. And, in a reprise of Deano’s death, it’s up to the local nannies to dispatch the corrupt politician in order to save their community.
The plot is driven ostensibly by the need for the plucky underdog hair salon to beat the inner circle of elite hairdressers to win the big award at the prestigious Ahh Hair! awards ceremony. But this is a post-#MeToo film, built around strong women rising up and harnessing the collaborative potential of community strength. The genuine menace of Deano’s threats brings home the everyday threat of male violence to women. The fawning grovelling treatment of star hairdresser, D’Logan Doyle (Louis Lovett) epitomises the hollowness of patriarchal dominance of society. The narrative arc of the plot brings in issues of gentrification, redevelopment, corruption, individualism, patriarchy, and profit mongering, defeated by strong women working together with the community spirit and support structures driving the narrative. While the Netflix algorithm codes Deadly Cuts as an offbeat, irreverent comedy, the twin threats of violence towards women and a kind of social violence – gentrification through redevelopment – are deeply disturbing.
Chantelle, a young member of the hairdressing staff, is too scared to go out at night because of threats (having her head shaved) from gang members. The harassment of women in the local pub by the male gang members is an everyday occurrence. Only after Deano is killed by the hairdressers and the other gang members are duped into dispersing, is Chantelle finally brave enough to go to the local pub in the evening.
The hair salon is portrayed as a place of community, creativity and freedom. The threat to close it through redevelopment invokes the ongoing developer-led dominance of Dublin at the expense of developing a city people can actually live in. The Irish housing crisis is driven by a capitalist need for profit, with insufficient development of mixed-use housing and liveable communities. The Piglinstown community’s obligation to take direct action against the threat of a redevelopment that will split their community exposes the the absence of political will to address these issues. Instead, the Piglinstown sorority must take control (to the extent of actual murder) to defend their place in society.
Historically, the female in Irish cinema has been unevenly represented, often serving to support or shore up Irish masculinity. This tendency is upended in Deadly Cuts, with strong female representation across all generations. Filmed on location in Dublin, Deadly Cuts moves away from this narrow regressive categorisation of the female as supportive of the dominant male figure and instead provides us with a number of strong nuanced independent female characters.
From a film industry perspective, the international success of Deadly Cuts – written and directed by female director Rachel Daly – is important in the context of the lack of gender parity in the Irish screen industries. Screen Ireland gender breakdown statistics (on www.screenireland.ie) points to the pngoing underrepresentation of female directors and writers. The six point plan introduced by Screen Ireland in 2015 to address this imbalance is structured to encourage more women to apply for funding. Crucially, the provision of enhanced funding measures for female talent and a specific “POV “scheme for supporting projects in development is providing a support base towards gender parity. However, mentorship and encouragement don’t necessarily tackle the problem of the existence of patriarchal structural barriers, particularly around gendered caring roles, means that gender parity is still some way away (Liddy, 2020; O’Brien, 2019). In addition, while explicit policy measures to combat gender inequality in the screen industries are welcome, there is a failure to address other issues of equality and diversity in the screen industries. As yet, the kind nuanced work undertaken with regard to diversity in the UK cultural and creative industries by Brook, O’Brien & Taylor (2020) has not been paralleled in an Irish context.
Historical uneasiness around national cinemas and national identities as an “other” to be defined and evaluated against a dominant Hollywood are not visible here. Instead an assured Irishness is developed through addressing specific nuances of current problems within Irish society, including gender-based inequality, gentrification, and political corruption. Deadly Cuts does not showcase a globalised, gentrified Dublin, but a living community. It is salutary that it is an unashamedly local Dublin story that gets international recognition, sufficiently Irish to woo both national and international audiences. The use of Kneecap’s (the Belfast-based rap trio) Irish language “C.E.A.R.T.A” in the opening credits, over a run-down, impoverished suburb, establishes from the outset that the film is hailing its explicit Irishness (although on Netflix, the decision to subtitle the Irish lyrics with a generic “singing in Irish Gaelic” somewhat dilutes this message). A locally made film in a time where the film is increasingly transnational, Deadly Cuts embraces its local and Irish roots and in doing so shows us an assured new Irish cinema.
Brook, Orian, Dave O’Brien, and Mark Taylor (2020). Culture is bad for you. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Griffin, Nathan (2021). “‘I just think it’s a voice that’s so funny and criminally underused’ Deadly Cuts director Rachel Carey on the need for more working-class female-led comedies.” Irish Film and Television News (October 15). http://www.iftn.ie/news/featureinterviews/?act1=record&only=1&aid=73&rid=4294220&tpl=archnews&force=1 accessed 20th February 2022.
Liddy, Susan (Ed.) (2020. Women in the Irish Film Industry: Stories and Storytellers. Cork: Cork University Press.
O’Brien, Anne (2019). Women, inequality and media work. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Wiseman, Andreas (2022). “Irish Comedy ‘Deadly Cuts’ Sells To U.S., Australia, Spain, South Africa.” Deadline (January 11). https://deadline.com/2022/01/irish-comedy-deadly-cuts-sells-to-u-s-australia-spain-south-africa-1234908020/.