From its opening scene, Adrian Langley’s Butchers promises to be a bleak, nihilistic slasher film. Unlike many of its kind, the film does not waste any time introducing an overly cheerful spectacle of false hope. Instead, Langley tells us that darkness is inevitable on these backroads. Perhaps hope exists somewhere out there. But it doesn’t exist here.
At the beginning of Butchers, Celeste (Samantha De Benedet) and her boyfriend Steven’s (Blake Canning) car breaks down on a snowy dirt road. As soon as Steven gets out of the car to check the damage, he is bludgeoned to death by a vicious stranger wielding a shovel. Celeste’s luck isn’t much better: she is kidnapped by the butcher and chained to a hook in a dark, dank room where she is subsequently raped and impregnated.
We are then introduced to a whole new cast of characters: Jenna (Julie Mainville), Taylor (Anne-Carolyne Binette), and their boyfriends, Christopher (Frederik Storm) and Mike (James Hicks). The quartet is on the final legs of a road trip, and, surprise, surprise: their car breaks down, just like their unlucky predecessors. Another surprise: they run into the same sadistic killers, Owen (Simon Phillips) and Oswald (Michael Swatton), that seem to govern these back roads. And you can rest assured that these killers have beef with the innocent road-trippers.
Though Butchers is admittedly engaging and artfully crafted, by the time it reaches its bloody climax, it has not yet subverted any horror genre expectations. Car breaks down in an unsavory spot? Check. People go to search for help in sketchy territory? Also check. They split up? Double check. The feisty female protagonist turns out to be the best match for the sadistic murderers? You already know what we’re gonna say.
Indeed, Butchers has checked all the slasher boxes by the time the protagonists find themselves in the thick of it. But would we be getting our hopes up by expecting anything more than the adherence to a genre checklist?
But where Butchers succeeds is its bold lack of self-consciousness. Though it admittedly takes a format — the “road trip gone wrong” — that is used often in horror movies such as The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn, and Wolf Creek, it does not give in to the pressure to spend more time with its protagonists than its antagonists. Nor does it concern itself with developing particularly likeable or sympathetic characters. Instead, Butchers follows its own pace.
Still, though it is worthwhile to praise the film’s unconventional nature, Butchers might benefit from taking a page from the book of its predecessors. Horror movie tropes, while often considered overused and predictable, can successfully lay a foundation for a moviegoing experience that inspires more audience engagement than Butchers ultimately does. Take, for example, the Final Girl trope, which often forces a filmmaker to build likeability into one of their characters, (something Langley doesn’t seem particularly bothered to do). A good jump scare or two might have, in addition, prevented the film from feeling slow and, ultimately, inconsequential.
Indeed; to veer off the path of conventional back-woods, middle-of-nowhere slasher movies is risky business, especially when you aren’t planning on replacing those cruel, entertaining moments of gore with an interesting thematic message or an intriguing character study. With a title like Butchers, and with gruff, meat-cleaver wielding villains, horror-lovers will no doubt expect a bloody spectacle to the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or My Bloody Valentine. What Adrian Langley delivers is notably different — and his film ultimately takes a bloody blow because of it.
Butchers is available on VOD now and will be released on DVD on March 8th
by Aurora Amidon
Aurora Amidon (she/her) is a recent graduate of Bard College, with a degree in Literature and Film Studies. Her favorite pastime is watching trailers she’d already seen a thousand times, and would love to sit down with you and tell you why The Social Network trailer is actually the best movie of all time. You can follow her on Twitter.