Butchers (2020)

The two Watson brothers, Owen (Simon Phillips) and Oswald (Michael Swatton), are out burying their recently deceased mother in the snowy ground, when they spot a car breaking down on the nearby road – and opportunity as well. Shortly afterwards the car’s driver Steven is dead, and his girlfriend Celeste is suspended by chains in a barn with a metal gag in her mouth, as a mocking Owen lays out for her a horrific future as the brothers’ toy.  A match cut marks the transition from winter to summer at the barn, with the suggestion that Celeste (Samantha De Benedet) has been trapped in this unimaginable scenario for all the intervening time. The focus of Butchers, however, will now shift to another car coincidentally breaking down in almost the same spot, and two of its occupants – Mike (James Hicks)  and Taylor (Anne Carolyne Binetta) – walking ahead to find a garage while the other two – Jenna (Julie Mainville) and Chris (Frederik Storm) – wait by the vehicle. 

From the start we have a good idea where Butchers is going and its director, producer, cinematographer, editor and co-writer (with Daniel Weissenberger) Adrian Langley knows that we know. For as a carload of bickering, two-timing co-ed outsiders find themselves stuck in ‘the middle of nowhere’ (literally one of this film’s subtitles), and a local family of hicks targets them for the chopping block or an even worse fate for any survivor, we are clearly travelling the same genre backroads as Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Rob Schmidt’s Wrong Turn (2003). There is even the weirdo obsessed with taking polaroids of his future victims from the former film, and (eventually) mutant cannibalism from the latter. 

“We don’t actually eat people around here, that would be a little cliché,” Owen tells the two women, in a line that advertises the film’s awareness of its own generic affiliations. His words might appear to be promising deviation from this kind of film’s typical pattern – no such luck, though, for his very next line reveals that one member of the family has indeed “developed a taste for that soft human flesh.” Here, apparently, cliché proves as hard to avoid as the pot. Later, when Mike asks, “Why are you doing this?”, Owen responds, “Why does everybody ask that same fuckin’ predictable question? Because it needs doin’.” These self-conscious exchanges summarise a film that keeps retracing the same well-worn narrative paths (even as we track characters repeatedly walking or riding the same tree-lined road). In much the same way that our four hapless co-eds are caught from the start in a Sadean trap, there can also be no escape from the requirements of genre. Butchers carves its way through all its over-familiar routines because that is simply what needs doin’ in a film like this. Which is to say that while Langley’s feature is neither original nor particularly demanding viewing, it plays out its borrowed tropes with knowing, bloody efficiency. 

strap: Adrian Langley’s Butchers is a self-consciously derivative carve-up of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Wrong Turn.

© Anton Bitel