Not every Asian horror film features a creepy pale girl with long black hair. There are those ghost films but there are also some films that really push the boundaries of the genre beyond anything released in the United States. The Butcher is one such film.
The Butcher is an extremely challenging film to watch. It doesn’t feature a deep plot but it does feature some hyper realistic and extremely disturbing visuals. If this film doesn’t make you at least wince it may be time to re-evaluate your life. The film begins with a couple of guys sitting in a beat down slaughter house discussing their work, the work of making real snuff films. At this point the film is being shot from the perspective of four video cameras mounted on the heads of four hostages bound and waiting to be killed in some brutal ways for these snuff films.
The film is shot all on video from the head mounted cameras and from various video cameras either being held by the “filmmakers” or sitting on a tripod in the room. Often films like the Blair Witch Project attempt to do the same thing but what inevitably happens are some scenes are shot by a cinematographer and are impossible to have been shot by one of the characters. These shots can ruin the atmosphere of a film that is built on the gimmick of being found footage. This film doesn’t do it perfectly either but it’s as close as I’ve seen outside of the American film Paranormal Activity. Actually the shooting is handled perfectly. It was a clever decision to put cameras on the heads of the other hostages while one or two others are being tortured for the snuff film. This allowed for POV footage from the victim, footage from the cameras of the killers, and additional angles from the other hostages. What ends up on screen is a great variety of shots and angles but stylistically it all works within the formula of the snuff film video. The problem for me comes with the question, who tied all of the footage together? Who edited the video? If you start thinking about that it makes the end of the film even more depressing and effective because even if you believe it ended one way it had to end another for the film to have been edited.
Basically the meat of the film is these “filmmakers” doing the work of making the snuff film which entails torturing and killing the four people that have tied up in the slaughter house. A mix of elements is used to great effect in the film. The first and most expected effect are the blatant gore FX. There are beatings, stabbings, and one extremely disturbing rape scene. The second and possibly even more effective element comes in the scenes that happen off camera. In a few instances footage is shot from a camera mounted on a victim who just looks around the room while she hears horrible things happening to another victim in another room. This type of horror was used to a fantastic degree in a German film called Funny Games and in its subsequent American remake.
The Butcher is well executed but is it a good movie? That’s a tough question. The goal of the film is to disturb the viewer and on that count the film is a success. Asking that question is like asking if Irreversible is a good film. The Butcher does everything it set out to do and it does it as good or better as other films that have previously attempted a similar type of story. Also, the key to an important film for me is one that really affects me. So I’d say a film that makes me nearly vomit is as important as one that makes me rethink my views on a subject or that makes me truly happy by the closing credits. The Butcher is definitely a film that falls in the vomit bucket side of my film viewing experiences and as odd as it sounds that’s a good thing.
The widescreen video presentation here is made up of all digital video footage so colors are a bit washed out and there’s tons of video grain. Black levels are a little murky causing detail to drop off during darker scenes. The look of this film adds to the realism which makes the film all the more effective. So, the overall video is poor but it’s supposed to be.
The audio like the video is fairly basic in presentation recorded live during the shoot. Dialogue can get a bit muffled when a camera isn’t pointed directly at the speaker and overall audio isn’t well balanced due to the style in which it was shot. The audio sells the snuff film feel of the film so it’s appropriately lower quality.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The single disc DVD comes packaged in a standard amaray case featuring iconic art reminiscent of 70’s horror films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The only bonus features on the disc are a couple of photo galleries and the trailer. That’s unfortunate because there’s tons of opportunity here for featurettes on this type of filmmaking and even something on snuff films in general. A making of featurette and a commentary would have been nice too.
Many films came to my mind while I was watching The Butcher including The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Hostel, 8MM, and Funny Games. The Butcher takes ideas and style from all of these films but it doesn’t hold back. Just when most filmmakers would get a little too squeamish and decide to pull the camera back or go to an unrealistic angle to put some space between the viewer and the action Kim Jin Won doesn’t blink. This is a film that wouldn’t get made here in the Unites States and if it did it wouldn’t get major distribution. It takes a twisted and ballsy filmmaker to execute a project full on like this one so it demands at least one viewing.
Overall (Not an average) 7.5/10
The Movie 7/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 2/10
Overall (Not an average) 7/10