In July of 2003, 40-year-old Gio Pagano unearths the remains of a black-and-white film, which possibly contains an authentic snuff scene. This scene, which Gio edited almost 20 years ago, had been investigated by the FBI and ruled a fake, though Gio had suspected it was real but never pursued the matter further. In the months that follow the reemergence of this scene, Gio researches his 20-year-old baptism into the world of cruelty, violence, and death that he now fully occupies (in his job as correctional officer at Rikers Island, in his 19-year marriage to his estranged wife, and in the impending death of his uncle, his last living relative).
The storyline shifts between Gio’s attempt in determining the authenticity of this scene by tracking down former employees of Scratch Films, the company that employed him as a film editor, and his apprenticeship (1983-84) at Scratch, working for the charismatic owner, CJ Scott, who assured the protagonist that “what they did” was simply create “simulated” snuff, and that no one ever got hurt. However, as the apprenticeship ensues, the simulated snuff scenes become more realistic due to the film crew’s proficiency with more realistic artistic techniques and stage props.