The Cutlass

The coast of the island of Trinidad is about what you might picture if asked to imagine a tropical paradise of white sand beaches, lush rain forests, and of course the clear blue waters of the Caribbean. Living there would be a dream come true for a lot of people even though the cell phone reception isn’t all that great. But even the most beautiful places have their dangers, and in The Cutlass, that danger is also all too human.


The coast of the island of Trinidad is about what you might picture if asked to imagine a tropical paradise of white sand beaches, lush rain forests, and of course the clear blue waters of the Caribbean. Living there would be a dream come true for a lot of people even though the cell phone reception isn’t all that great. But even the most beautiful places have their dangers, and in The Cutlass, that danger is also all too human.

Joanna Soloman (Lisa-Bel Hirschmann) is a regular teenager despite living in paradise. She has a boyfriend named Tyler (Michael De Souza) a best friend Beth (Ruby Parris), and worries sometimes about Kelly (Alexis-Marie Chin), who’s part of Joanna’s circle of friends and likes to hit on Tyler. Joanna also hopes to go to college someday, but she doesn’t think she can afford it since her father, Jake (Kirk Baltz), is dying of cancer and mom Christina (Rebecca M Foster) is struggling to pay the bills.

Meanwhile, Al (Arnold Goindhan) is in a different sort of struggle, living in abject poverty and stealing to survive. He’s also trying for a big score, since he owes a lot of money to a local crime boss known as Prowler (Conrad Parris) and Al isn’t sure how he’ll manage. On an evening when Joanna has taken some well-deserved time off from looking after her dad and gone to Beth’s house for dinner with the gang, Al choose that same house to rob. And when Al finally leaves, he doesn’t leave alone — he has Joanna with him at gunpoint as he drags her through the jungle.

By the time her friends can sound the alarm — remember, cell service is spotty — Al and his prisoner have vanished into the uncharted depths of the island. Joanna is trapped by both her captor and her surroundings, since she quickly becomes lost, and escaping Al only to be forced to fend for herself in the jungle isn’t all that appealing. Al is disdainful of her ability to look after herself, and rightly so; but he’s also convinced that since she’s white, her family must be wealthy and would be glad of the chance to pay him half a million dollars for her safe return.

The police are investigating, led by Detective Mason (Chris Paul Smith), but Jake can’t wait quietly at home. Despite his illness, he recruits Tyler to join him in his own personal search for his daughter. As they all move inexorably towards a final showdown in the depths of the jungle, Joanna and her kidnapper are locked in an increasingly tense battle of wills — a battle that might not turn out well for either of them.

It’s this battle that’s at the heart of the movie. Al talks about respect and how he’s had to earn it, but in his world respect is earned by violence, something Joanna has never had to face. The cutlass of the title is a symbol of that violence, a blade rather like a pirate’s cutlass that Al often uses as a machete as well as a handy way to threaten his captive. He even warns Joanna about interfering with the weapon, less concerned about a possible attempt to escape than a potential challenge to his authority.

Based on a true story, the movie takes full advantage of its gorgeous setting, with the jungle almost another character in itself. And it’s a solidly entertaining thriller which, I’m glad to say, doesn’t reduce Joanna to a mere damsel in distress. For the most part she uses her wits and never misses the chance to search for some weakness in Al that she might be able to exploit. The relationship between the two is a strange one — in the end, Al is a sociopath who can’t form a normal connection — but it helps drive the movie to its tense finale and the main characters to their fates.