Wednesday 20 January 2010

The Butcher

Where to begin? The the man-rape, the bear trap, or the chainsaw?

I was curious about this movie, but kept putting off watching it. I felt I needed to be in just the right mood to watch an extreme torture fest. The synopsis promised a kind of first-person POV of torture and violence. A friend of mine tried to watch this movie, but had to turn it off. I took it as a challenge.

Mr. Director produces snuff. All his films are the same: a man in pig's head mask, the titular Butcher, cuts people up. Today he's making a new movie and has four victims lined up. Each is fitted with a helmet camera that records the abuse, while Director himself also records the murder sessions with his own handycam. After an unsatisfactory shoot with his first two victims, Director hopes to redeem his movie with a husband and wife pairing. To make things interesting, Director gives the husband a chance to survive, all he has to do is endure ten minutes of torture. When the husband pleads for an end to the abuse, Director gives him one more chance. If the husband can think up a really creative way for The Butcher to kill his wife, Director will let him go.

Interesting, if not too subtle, is the husband's predicament. At the start of the torture session, he is pleading for his own life, asking Director to let him go. Later on, he pleads for both their lives, his and his wife's. Noting this change in behaviour, Director makes his offer to spare the husband. There is no hope of sparing the wife, and the husband, rather than refuse to indulge his torturer, succumbs to his sense of self-preservation and suggests a particularly horrible way for his wife to die. Commenting on the limits of love, the scene forces us to consider what we would sacrifice in order to survive; having already failed to withstand 10 minutes of rape and chainsawing, the husband is given another chance to live, only this time he must withstand the tortures heaped upon his beloved wife. The situation begs the question, what is there to live for after this?

Placing us squarely in the middle of these philosophical, psychological, and physiological debates is the film's rather unique technological approach. The story is told from two main POVs, that of the husband and that of Director, and is accomplished by cutting between feeds from the the helmet- and the handycam. The majority of the action is seen from the husband's POV and the effect is reminiscent of the murder scene in Strange Days in which the victim, through the use of neural-interfacing tech, experiences the attack from her killer's point-of-view. Though we certainly can't feel the husband's pain, we see what he sees which includes the pig-headed Butcher bearing down on him/us, getting his/our leg caught in a bear trap, and nearly getting his/our head shot off.

The cinema verite makes for some powerful torture and innovative gore effects, including one amazing, up close eye-gouging, but the whole premise is ultimately flawed because there's no context for the multiple POVs. I'm not talking about more of a story to help contextualize the violence--though there is little of that--I mean an aftermath or framing device. The torture session almost takes place in real time, so an argument could be made that The Butcher is found footage, but because of how the movie ends, this explanation doesn't hold up. Alternatively, it could be that we are meant to just forget about the cameras and accept that we are passing between bodies, but I'm not really prepared to go that far in suspending my disbelief. My sanity demands a technological explanation.

I briefly mentioned the film has almost no story. It is what it is, people getting murder-death-killed in horrible ways. We know nothing about any of these people, save for Mr. Director. Near the beginning of the movie, he takes a phone call from his mother, who talks to him about going to church. The clumsy scene is meant to show us Director is still human despite his inhuman treatment of his movie stars. Add to this the Butcher himself, an impulsive man who communicates through grunts and wears a pig's head, and you have a film about disposable, expendable culture--people are just so much meat, to be consumed by a gluttonous market, and then forgotten. Everyone is human and everyone is, equally, a product. It's an interesting idea, but maybe not expressed all that well.

Though I sat through all of The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity without getting sea sick, I was kind of nauseated by the end of The Butcher. I'm not sure if it was the camera work, subject matter, or both. The film, quite literally, puts the viewer in the hot seat, forcing the audience to endure 75 minutes of abuse. I dare you not to be queasy after that.

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