Butcher, The (2008)
Reviewed by Paul McCannibal
Starring Kim Sung-il, You Dong-hun
Directed by Kim Jin-won
I don’t get the faux snuff genre, I really don’t, and that is exactly what The Butcher is. There’s no story. There’s no character introduction or development. It’s not shot on any kind of medium you could class as aesthetically well constructed. The framework is actors operating their own cameras, or directed loosely to do so. All on crappy looking video. Nothing nice to look at, definitely nothing interesting to look at.
This movie features a trio of sadist snuff moviemakers in an abandoned slaughterhouse. One wears a pig’s head. They have four victims, each of whom wears an improvised helmet constructed of a bowl, some duct tape, and a cheap video camera attached to the top. These auto-camera contraptions look really stupid.
The sadist/snuffers have cheap video cameras too, giving the presentation the only “dynamic” potential in the entire film, which is the ability to cut between the perspective of the victim and whatever the sadist/snuffmasters decide to shoot. The edit of the footage is seemingly random, the shots are long, shaky, and boring throughout. For that matter, it’s all boring and extremely uncreative. You do get to see people murdered and mutilated, or hear them murdered and mutilated off-screen. What The Butcher is trying to do, like the August Underground series, is show the audience an imitation of what a potential real captive/murder/snuff video might look like. Why? Why do that?
Having seen this at a festival, a big looming question arises right away. People who go to movies at festivals are often interested in seeing and/or meeting the directors who made the films. Why would you want to be the person who made a video like The Butcher? What pleasure could one take from having a stranger approaching them after the screening and saying “That was really realistic and I loved it!” If I thought that someone actually found a way in their mind to identify with what was being shown in a video like this, it’d creep me out. But whatever. Who knows what’s going on in this faux snuff scene. Again, I just have to say that I flat out don’t get it. To each their own.
A long time ago, at the advent of the internet, I remember someone saying that looking at the real death clips available out there is akin to sticking your finger into a light socket for entertainment. Having seen some terrible things on the 'net myself, I concur. Regardless, this type of thing that The Butcher is trying to do has been done "successfully" before with the Guinea Pig series or the August Underground films. I stress "successfully".
Faux snuff, granted, isn’t exactly the same as sticking your finger in a light socket for entertainment, because it isn’t real. It’s more like pulling the fuse out and sticking your finger into an inert light socket and pretending to be shocked, and then trying very hard and very vocally to convince people that your finger is burned, when it isn’t. But what fun is that? Isn’t that just pretending to be stupid? This is why I think these faux snuff films are worthless creations.
Now, before you start railing against my squareness and calling me a softly pro-censorship guy, I’m not fully against the idea of death presented on film in freakishly direct ways. Back in the late 80’s, one of my favourite directors, English auteur Alan Clarke, made a short film called "Elephant" (American poseur Gus Van Sant appropriated the title and the concept with his boring and laughably inferior Colombine-themed version). Alan Clarke’s original 1989 "Elephant" film featured 20-odd minutes of people stalking and shooting one another in Northern Ireland. Clarke’s point was to make a statement against violence by showing the ugliness and equal proliferation of it regardless of sectarian allegiance.
I remember reading an interview about the film, and Clarke apparently considering stopping the filming of "Elephant" mid-way through because he was starting to wonder if it was a good idea to show nothing but the concentrated violence without character context, due to how that kind of thing might weigh on his conscience, or the conscience of those who saw it. He continued though, and left behind a harsh and unique film that asks the viewer very directly how this kind of violent, daily reality sits with them.
Faux-snuff like The Butcher? Or, for that matter, August Underground? No way. These people didn’t ever sit around and wonder whether they’d gone too far; they only wondered if they’d gone far enough in terms of making a name for themselves, or if they could go further in doing so. This stuff writes sequels as a part of its process potential. If people out there “like” it enough, they’ll do another one under the same title as long as people want it. Alan Clarke, bless him, would never do an "Elephant 2" Because there was a point in his exploration of violence, and he would only purposely do it once to make his point, because he had a point. I should add, I’m talking now about a filmmaker at a level of filmic style and creativity that I almost feel is being insulted by my bringing his name up in this particular context. But hopefully my point is clear.
To finish, I love the horror genre, but this faux snuff stuff doesn’t qualify on any level as something worthy as an entry in the genre as I see it, at least on a technical and artistic level. This kind of shit needs to be chased out of town. Torture and mutilation simulations are not what the genre (or the world) needs. Especially not right now. Torture is not something to be made light of or trivialized by turning depictions of it into entertainment without explaining why.
I’ll keep a copy of this review in case I ever see another faux-snuff video. I’ll just copy and paste this review and change the respective titles because my perspective on it isn’t going to change. Here’s my take: The Butcher is the bottom of the barrel folks: avoid at all costs unless you're into faux-snuff videos.
0 out of 5
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