Cut to the Core is a highly underrated horror experience

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It occurs to me that I’ve been enjoying a disproportionate number of horror stories of late. IMMORTALITY is an innovative and terrifying experience with layers to its narrative, The Price of Flesh is a refreshing take on the visual novel formula that incorporates elements of survival gameplay, and Red Embrace: Hollywood excels at reminding us how truly horrifying the vampire motif is — despite what we may have come to associate with them through modern movies. Sparkles and all that.

Today I want to add Cut to the Core to that mix, as it’s a grossly underrated motion comic available on Steam and — and to date there’s been very little in the way of public feedback via reviews and comments. I’m hoping that my piece here will bring at least a little more attention to this work, because it deserves a lot more attention than it’s seemingly had so far. The asking price of £2.09 isn’t much when you consider it provides you with one of the most chilling and harrowing interactive stories I’ve seen for a long time — so consider supporting Plasma Press.

Cut to the Core is a car crash you have to see to believe in just how far it goes. But before committing to the game, take heed of the mature content warnings it promises: “strong language, sexuality, drug abuse, animal abuse, child abuse, abortion, self-harm, gore, body horror and suicide”. Fun times ahead!

“Playing” is subjective, the horror is absolute

Cut to the Core

Cut to the Core can be a hard sell for certain audiences because it’s not exactly something you can “play” in the traditional sense. Interactivity is, at best, the click of your mouse or keyboard to progress the text since the game is, at its core, a kinetic visual novel, meaning there are no choices to be made in the entire game. But it’s not like that is ever noticeable, since the wild ride ends in barely four hours. You can just have it play in auto mode so that you are not reaching over to click through it all, and instead sit back with some snacks and enjoy without worrying about getting your playing device filthy for once.

As a kinetic novel, the game is completely linear and has only one ending, and its achievements are unlocked simply for watching it all play out chapter by chapter. But let’s get to why you should give this experience some time — particularly for such a small asking price.

Body horror at its core

Cut to the Core

Cut to the Core takes inspiration thematically and visually from the likes of Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt to really set the tone of its dark and brooding comic aesthetic. It’s hard to guess exactly where it’s going to end up when you first start exploring — even with Steam’s tags of “gore”, “horror” and “psychological horror” — but it sure delivers on all of those fronts as an impressive slow burn horror experience.

The game starts off innocently enough with main character Jack lying to his spouse’s face about financial issues after a deal falls through. Jack is an average guy, albeit a bit worse for wear, much like the majority of Cut to the Core’s extremely troubled cast — although it should probably be noted that he is one of the more “normal” characters.

People make mistakes, and Jack certainly demonstrates this — but Cut to the Core is impressive in how it manages to make him a sympathetic character under the circumstances, particularly considering his past mishandling of various life events.

More characters are introduced at a dinner party, though only a few of them become important later. These include a tortured artist who is looking for his next source of inspiration for his new project, and a doctor whose relationship with the couple is a lot more complicated than what you might initially assume.

This is also where many red flags are teased; these become extremely, entertainingly on-the-nose on a subsequent rerun. Certain dialogue from the suspicious Lacey might look nothing more than harmless throwaway lines initially, the tension is misdirected through dinner table drama when the true threat is hiding in plain sight and someone is watching the couple like a hawk.

Things escalate with every unfolding scene, and it’s mesmerising to see just how far south everything goes as a domino effect caused by the characters’ actions, feelings and motivations playing off one another. Foreshadowing is handled exceptionally well, and you never quite know where things are going with all the twists and revelations.

Once the characters are established during the early chapters, things pick up to a very exciting pace. Chapters 3 through 9 crank things up a notch, and you’ll find yourself unable to turn your eyes away from the shock and horror of how the plot unfolds — and how it eventually ends. It all comes full circle in such a twistedly clever way.

A wild ride for those with strong stomachs

Cut to the Core

Some of Cut to the Core’s visuals will forever be ingrained in my mind; referring to it as a “Western Junji Ito” experience is not at all inaccurate. Every panel’s colour palette complements the tone of the moment, we have beautifully detailed and colourful landscapes during scene transitions, and the emphasis on black and red colours in the more horrific pages makes for a visually striking picture. Every panel has a wonderfully refined sense of attention to detail in every crevice and corner.

Another all-important element in Cut to the Core is its music. Since all you’re doing is turning the story’s pages, the music keeps things nicely tense, building up as terrifying events are about to unfold and as dreaded moments relating to characters’ pasts are revealed. The music helps emphasise how the story plays on the characters’ psyche and development in unconventional and twisted ways.

Macabrely brilliant

I probably wouldn’t have stumbled across Cut to the Core were it not for vndb’s tag database. Body horror is still quite an underutilised genre for the visual novel medium, so it’s been a pleasure to experience a title as fleshed out (pardon the pun) as this, particularly when it’s so well conceptualised and solidly put together.

Don’t let this one go unappreciated. With just 26 reviews since its release on August 1st, 2022, Cut to the Core deserves to be dissected and scrutinised for your viewing pleasure — or horror, it’s a mix of the two really! It’s absolutely vile, terrifying and unforgettable. And that’s why I love it.

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Lilia Hellal
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