There’s something charmingly retro about the hair salon ensemble comedy Deadly Cuts, both in its plotting and in the specific niche of the festival-circuit indie comedies it recalls. This is a slobs-vs-snobs story about eccentric workers of an Irish hair salon getting one over on the gangsters, politicians, and big-city competition that bully them for being fabulous. Not only do the hairstylists of the titular Deadly Cuts (derided for being a lowly “pun salon”) claim victory over their bullies by winning a televised competition, but they also use the prize money to save their small suburb of Piglinstown from financial ruin. It’s the standard “save the community center” plot from every classic underdog comedy, but with a Christopher Guest-style talent show climax. Deadly Cuts recalls the funniest bits in Sordid Lives, Strictly Ballroom, and Best in Show, wringing some huge, often crass laughs out of a TV sitcom budget. It feels like the kind of movie that would have gathered a large but quiet cult following over the years had it come out in the time of video store rentals & limited movie options on cable (like all three of those comparison points). I don’t know how much room there is for that kind of sleeper hit to gain traction in the modern pop culture landscape, but the movie itself is fun & charming enough that you wish it could time travel back to a more favorable era.
Maybe it’s that late-to-the-table, familiar appeal that convinced writer-director Rachel Carey she needed to zhuzh up her debut feature with a killer hook. The oddball characters that work the film’s warring hair salons are distinct & funny enough on their own that the movie doesn’t really need an extra gimmick to make it worthwhile, but it does need to get eyeballs on the screen somehow. Carey chose murder. While the Deadly Cuts stylists are already super busy preparing for the avant-garde hairstyle competition Ahh Hair (broadcast nationally on Fad TV), where they’re outgunned by the skilled but passionless snobs of competing big-city salons, they also have to fight off local gangsters who extort them for “protection” money and local politicians who’re eager to knock their business down for an easy gentrification cash-in. It would have been more than enough for our foul-mouthed heroines to smite their enemies with outrageous haircuts, but Carey goes the extra mile by having them literally smite their enemies with a series of slapstick murders. The main conflict of the film is still in watching them beat the odds as the underdog favorites in the Ahh Hair competition, but there’s an added layer of tension in hoping they’ve disposed of their enemies’ bodies efficiently enough to collect their trophy before arrest. The most wholesome thing about the movie is watching the Piglinstown community cheer them on from home (or, more accurately, from pub) despite it being an open secret that their scissors have been cutting more than hair.
I would love to live in a world where Deadly Cuts became a sleeper sleepover hit, inspiring a generation of young sassy weirdos to quote catchphrases like “Let’s do hair” and “As I live and weave” amongst each other as a long-running “inside” joke. I just don’t see a lot of potential for the next Drop Dead Gorgeous or the next Romy & Michele to emerge from this current, disorganized zeitgeist, which is partly why this particular low-budget comedy feels at least twenty years out of place on the timeline. It’s a major success in the two ways that count most, though: it’s funny & cute from start to end. The challenge is in convincing your friends to watch it so you have someone to bounce your favorite quotes off of while everyone else in earshot has no idea what you’re babbling about.