by Jason Coffman
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Let’s resolve this issue for everyone right away: if you want to watch what is probably the most convincing fake snuff film ever made to date (except, of course, for the opening and closing credits, which sort of give the game away), you’re going to want to see The Butcher. If, however, you want any sort of narrative to contextualize the vicious brutality being presented, you definitely don’t want to watch it.
The Butcher is a difficult film to review. It’s a difficult film to watch. This is handheld or first-person horror taken to its extreme: almost all of the footage in the film is from a camera mounted on a helmet worn by a torture victim. We watch along with it as it captures everything, unblinking, more or less in real time. At least one single shot runs well over twenty minutes. In the arms race to create the most convincing fake snuff movie of all time, The Butcher is pretty much neck-and-headless-neck with Toe Tag Pictures. So what does it mean that this film is getting mainstream distribution? Are we going to start seeing August Underground on the shelves at Best Buy? Is this a good thing?
Recently, the British Board of Film Classification refused a classification to a Japanese film called Grotesque. Naturally, this caused a stir and resulted in the film getting a lot more attention than it would have received if it had not been banned. Intrigued, I tracked down a copy of the film and watched it. Grotesque is a thoroughly unpleasant film in which a man kidnaps a young couple, takes them to his hideout and spends most of the film’s 74 minutes sexually humiliating and torturing them. It’s gross, ugly and mean-spirited, but otherwise completely forgettable. It really wasn’t worth the effort it took to ban. However, Grotesque is at least honest about its intentions: there are no pretensions here that the film is anything but a particularly nasty take on the “torture porn” subgenre.
At one point in The Butcher, one of the torturers utters the critic-baiting line “This isn’t art at all.” Clearly, the filmmakers are begging for someone to argue with them, but the line rings true. Like Toe Tag’s August Underground series, The Butcher works better as an effects reel than an actual movie. There are some nauseatingly realistic makeup and gore effects here, so good in fact that if it weren’t for the opening and closing credits this might as well be an actual snuff film. There’s no narrative driving the events, they just unfold and you have to watch, as it happens. Whole minutes pass by with the camera pointed at the ground as the guy wearing it whimpers and shouts. If the film has anything to say at all, perhaps the filmmakers are trying to give torture fans exactly what they want in the hopes that they’ll realize how sick it is to derive entertainment from another person’s suffering. But I seriously doubt that much thought went into any aspect of the film, no doubt the majority of the planning went into the sickening gore effects.
Frankly, it’s pretty shocking that any studio would snap this up for wide release. It’s tough to imagine anyone but the most jaded gore addict deriving any enjoyment from this film at all, and then it’s probably more a matter of showing it to people and saying “check out this sick fuckin’ SHIT” than anything else. It’s not even really a horror movie, certainly not the “Blair Witch meets SAW” that the promotional materials make it out to be. This is a genuinely disgusting, seriously disturbing “torture porn” that actually lives up to the genre name.
Palisades Tartan will be releasing The Butcher on DVD 27 October 2009. Special features include the film’s trailer, a gallery of storyboards, behind the scenes photos, and an alternate ending.
Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.
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