The mundane, madcap and macabre collide in Deadly Cuts, Rachel Carey’s chaotic comedy, which sees a group of salon workers become vigilante heroes.

Stacey (Ericka Roe) dreams of leaving her home in gloomy Piglinstown behind to reunite with her mother in Spain.

Her big chance for escape is the AhHair competition where Ireland’s best salons compete for glory.

Stacey and her colleagues, Chantelle (Shauna Higgins) and Gemma (Lauren Larkin), have been working hard to prepare for this grueling test of skill. But Michelle (Angelina Ball), the salon’s owner, wants nothing to do with AhHair.

For Michelle, the competition represents humiliation, haunted by nightmarish visions of sabotage and a disastrous hair-dye demonstration that forced her away from the gilded cabal of upmarket salons.

The suburb of Piglinstown where the girls live and work is under attack on multiple fronts.

Local tough Deano (Ian Lloyd Anderson) squeezes business owners for protection money and terrorises the neighbourhood at large.

And that’s not all. Big business interests and a menacing local councillor have all-too-familiar plans for Piglinstown. Upmarket coffee chains, luxury apartments, and of course, a hotel.

An almost demonic aura seems to hang over the town under Deano’s regime. Children practising cheer routines get into brawls at a moment’s notice, nights out end up in bloodshed. The threat of violence is ever-present.

Carey’s direction surprises with abrupt shifts to gritty, hard-hitting realism. When Deano attacks one of the salon girls the camera holds on the action. Later in that same sequence Deano is dispatched with the same unblinking camerawork.

Then we are treated to an extended fart joke in the next scene. The goofy and gory are not in balance, but the tonal shifts play into the film’s nervous, giddy energy.

There’s never a dull moment but there are raucous, sombre, silly, disgusting, shocking, amusing and tender moments from one scene to the next. Murder one minute, high-stakes competitive hairdressing the next.

Ball, Roe, Larkin and Higgins can sell any situation even as some of the lines clunk. They’re all very charming – their banter, little arguments and quirks. Broad as the characterisation may be it never comes off as unkind.

Carey does great things with the competition itself, the pageantry and excess on show is grotesquely amusing. At one point D’Logan, a celebrated hairstylist, rips open his shirt and uses his chest hair to brush a model’s hair into an impressive beehive ‘do. This is a man we’re told who “invented innovation and then innovated innovation”.

The circumstances and complications at the AhHair finale get wackier and Deadly Cuts eventually builds to a nutty pace where anything and everything can happen. It’s Looney Tunes by the time we reach the Avant Garde round of the contest. The action is so zany that it feels like the film reel might unspool and burn up at any second.

The 1980s Save the Community Centre vibe is strong in these sequences. Carey is just about in control and there’s an exciting tension to the ramping up of the action and the abundance of jokes.

Gags on top of gags on top of gags, forcing laughs from the audience through sheer exuberance.

I enjoyed this chaos, that uncertain feeling that comes from Carey’s scattershot writing. The script teeters on the edge of “too much” but the eagerness of the performances and the willingness of the film to lean into its own messiness and keep the laughs coming is commendable.

Silliness beats out technical comedy craft here. Even if the jokes don’t always hit the mark, the runaway narrative and committed performances always work. A laugh’s a laugh and in Deadly Cuts’ case it’s enough.

Deadly Cuts is in cinemas now.

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Luke Maxwell: Luke Maxwell is the host of the film review show, Viewfinder on 103.2 Dublin City FM. He also hosts The Movie Express Podcast, which you can find at www.movieexpress.org.

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