Friday 19 February 2021

Butchers (Canada 2020: Dir Adrian Langley)

It's getting on for fifty years since Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre introduced audiences to the then innovative depiction of a rural cannibalistic household; as well as a very loose adaptation of the life and work of real life killer Ed Gein, the movie's murderous family were themselves a warped stereotypical re-definition of the archetypal American crime family.

And now in yet another version of the 'family that slays together, degenerates together' cinematic motif, Butchers' brutal prologue introduces brothers Owen (Simon Phillips) and Oswald (Michael Swatton), who've recently lost their mother (as we meet them they've just buried her in what looks like a makeshift cemetery). Opportunity presents itself when a young couple's car breaks down on a snowy road near their broken down home. The male of the couple is killed but the female is held captive and, eventually, impregnated. By who, it is unclear: the voluble Owen, his considerably regressed brother Oswald, or maybe even the strange misshapen third sibling Oxford (Jonathan Largy), heard rather than seen, lumbering around their shack? 

Flash forward slightly to 1998, and four young friends are out on the road when their car breaks down, possibly in much the same spot. Chris (Frederik Storm) and Jenna (Julie Mainville) wait by the car, while Jenna's boyfriend Mike (James Hicks) and Taylor (Anne-Carolyne Binette) head off to find help. Jenna uses 'the facilities' and trips a wire attached to a bell which alerts Owen and Oswald to company. She sees a bloody handprint on a tree, which is odd, because, she concludes, "it's not hunting season." Yet.

Meanwhile Mike and Taylor get a little romantically sidetracked; yes they've been having a thing, even though Taylor is supposedly Jenna's best friend. They eventually find a garage, managed by Owen, who arranges for a tow truck to come and collect their car (this will be driven by family member Willard (Nick Allan), who, one won't be surprised, is more adjusted than the rest of his kin). Chris and Jenna, still waiting by the automobile, spy a character in the woods, watching them and taking Polaroids (a TCM reference). Things are about to get very unpleasant for all four of the unsuspecting youngsters.

While Langley's Canadian filmed and located feature (and oh it so desperately wants to give off a small town US feel, despite in part being filmed in an Ottowa Heritage Village) tries to do something a little different with a very familiar setup, Butchers feels like a movie out of time (mind you I thought the 'Wrong Turn' franchise had pretty much worn out the theme, and even that movie series has been re-booted this year). The director wants us to draw parallels between Mike's lustful leanings - Jenna, who's clearly aware what's going on, feels that men just can't help themselves - and the urges of Oswald and his clan (although the cannibalistic side seems to be reserved for Oxford). He also shows the brothers as an exercise in degeneration: Oswald is cultured and urbane (ok, that's a relative term here), whereas drooling debased Owen represents the next rung down (there's a scene in which he's learning to read, using 'Hamlet' as his chosen text, which Oswald clearly knows word for word), and Oxford is the geek locked up except for special occasions.

But underneath this Butchers is still just another entry of the pain and misery porn variety, even if the gore is lighter than expected and the cast get to keep their clothes on. It's well made but rather lacking in tension, which is maybe down to the fact that I've seen this story so many times before. Not great then.

Butchers is released on Digital download from 22 February and DVD from 8 March 2021.

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