Somewhat dated and dogged down by its better influences, Butchers fails to stand out in the modern horror renaissance, writes George Bell.
The plot of Butchers is one that instantly intrigues. Not because of the concept itself, but rather how generic the concept is: it seems to present itself as some close relation to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Wrong Turn. Why, when this concept has already been done so many times before, has this film been made? What does it do that makes it stand out against such esteemed company? Turns out, not that much.
Butchers follows a family of sadistic butchers in the rural country who, throughout the year, will kill anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path. The idea is a simple one, and one that has been done to death. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, widely regarded as one of the best in the horror genre, is best known for this concept, so Butchers needed to do something new and fresh to really make it worthwhile. And I’ll give it credit, it did try.
Although one might go in expecting an abundance predictable tropes, I found myself pleasantly surprised on occasion. Every time you expect something bad to happen due to some cliché or another, it doesn’t. Subtle changes in convention means you are kept on edge throughout the film, waiting for a trope to fully realise. This continues throughout the entire film, giving this would-be rip-off some much-needed tension.
Sadly, the film couldn’t escape all the stereotypical tropes, and where the film really falls apart is in the characterization. Butchers sacrifices developing its protagonists, a generic bunch of white teens, in favour of doubling down on the killers, a decision that could have worked if they were likeable or interesting. Instead, the butchers are uncomfortable to watch, have no motive and their actions are played almost entirely for shock value. Whenever the teens met the butchers I didn’t really care who came out on top, which quickly squashed any tension that had been built up.
The only character remotely interesting to watch was Simon Phillips’ Owen Watson, the leader of the butchers. His charismatic nature around the teens before they know his true intentions built up the believability. When they do learn who he actually is, the constant flipping between friendly and sadistic made the character truly terrifying to watch.
However, no matter how engaging Phillips’ performance was, uncomfortable moments abounded. The few women in this film are treated so heinously that at times I had to look away in disgust. In the modern era of horror, one would hope that of all the tropes this film could avoid, the victimization of its female characters would be one of the first to go. Instead, you have to sit by and watch them get tortured throughout, with the horrific actions they endure feeling in poor taste.
The film’s saving grace lies in its cinematography. Shot by director Adrian Langley, the film does a great job at bringing this somewhat dated subgenre into the modern era. Each shot felt as purposeful and methodical as the killers, capturing every detail. Certain camera angles perfectly complimented the horror on screen, leading to some clever scares that didn’t feel too cheap. While maybe not utilised as much as it should, the sound editing is astute, making every scene that extra bit visceral. Rather than relying solely on body horror and gore, the use of sound helps make what could have been a boring kill much more memorable.
Butchers tries to make its mark in an overpopulated subgenre, but ultimately doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Dragged down by outdated tropes that don’t really have a place in the modern landscape of cinema, the film feels dated despite it being a new release.
Butchers is available via digital download from 22 February and DVD from 8 March.
Words by George Bell
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