It was about the time that the grunting gimp in the pig mask and butchers apron began to sodomize the captive screaming husband that I mentally checked out of The Butcher. As a film fan and reviewer, I'd pretty much seen enough to form my opinion of it.
Basically, The Butcher is a Korean take on Japanese torture films, those of the lo-fi, found footage variety like the infamous initial entries into the Guinea Pig series, Devil's Experiment and Flower of Flesh and Blood.
The film is all POV footage, beginning with the cherub-faced assistant filming himself peeing against a wall, strolling through the dilapidated farm complex with its decaying walls and spare corrugated tin roof, then walking into the room where four captives sit, bound and beaten, cameras strapped to their heads through which we get the rest of our views.
Then the bespectacled director shows up and talks to their supplier. We find out two of the captives are man and wife. The hubby tries to run away. Some screaming, crying, pissing, puking, bleeding, and pleading on behalf of the captives. We stay in the room while two are dragged away to meet "the star." We hear the sound of a chainsaw and screaming. The assistant comes in with a trash can full of body parts. Then it is the husband and wifes turn and the last half of the film depicts their ordeal in explicit detail.
Obviously director Kim Jin-Won and crew are aiming for the whole, "in your face!" horror tropes. There isn't really much narrative or character at all. Glints mostly, like the director taking a break to talk to his religious mother on his cel phone, the director and assistant talking about the supposed audience for their snuff films, and the husband trying to make a deal to get out alive. Its really just all about the blood and guts... literally.
The POV, handycam aesthetic has become and often used gimmick for horror film makers these days. Hell, Paranormal Activity is, as of this writing, currently number one at the box office. In The Butcher's case, switching between the director and the victims view, its there to make the viewer both an unwilling participant and guilty observer. There is an interesting idea, hinted at in the film but not capitalized, of the idea of a victim escaping, desperately trying to hide in an unfamiliar area, while toggling between their POV and that of the killers searching for them.
The film is under and hour and twenty minutes long but feels much longer because of its grimness. There is the setup stretch introducing the principles and the grimy locale, some teasing by keeping the horrors to come offscreen, the truly torturous and graphic bits, then the final stretch complete with a half decent little twisteroo. Hammers to the head. Finger chopping. Eye gouging. Mute, gimp, pig mask raping. Disemboweling. Lots and lots of tortured screaming. The shaky cam was thankfully always easy to follow, though the catch to that was it also was a little less convincing as realistic. And, thats really the overall impression that I was left with. Yeah, its minimal and nasty but the cutting corners on story and character left me less than invested, and where I should have been grossed out or disturbed by its technique and content, I was mostly just annoyed and left analyzing the more conventional ways that they could have made a better film. Initially unsettling, sure. Dirty, blood-soaked walls and people crying in peril will gets under anyone's skin. But, as The Butcher drags on it never really develops any ideas beyond its cruelty, so one cannot help but be increasingly unmoved.
The DVD: Vivendi/Pallisades/Tartan
I will say this, these kind of films are very easy to review in the audio/visual department. Anamorphic widescreen, all shaky DV, and I'd venture from the quality they swapped out for something more higher end than the actual JVC handycams you see strapped to the victim's heads. There are never really any problems with lighting, actually a missive in a way because it looks more pro than found footage. The usual round of drawbacks with DV film, some murky contrast and blocky artefacts, but the overall point is that it is rough, low grade, and intentionally so.
Again, what we have is basic, a 2.0 Stereo Korean language track with optional English subtitles. Even within the ramshackle setting and placements the dialogue is always easy to hear. There is no music, save one bit of semi-cheating I won't spoil. Subtitles are well-timed and lean towards a casual translation, the director, for instance, saying, "You're banging hot."
The round of extras consists of Behind the Scenes Photos, Original Trailer, a neat view of Storyboard Sketches for several scenes, and finally an Alternative Ending (2:09), really a tag onto the films ending, a bit that they clearly cut because it was probably too much of a nod to a classic horror film.
Horror is in a weird place these days. In the US mainstream we have endless rounds of remakes and dulled PG-13 skewing films. Underground film makers seem to trot out lots of roughies, often throwing out convention in favor of pure grue, so their voices and crossover potential amounts to a lot of white noise. The Butcher is an odd number because it's probably too nasty, abnormal, and sparse for those that want a film with some emotional investment, subtext, traditional technique, etc, yet I also don't know if its quite hardcore and convincing enough for the repugnant torture horror crowd. The DVD is decent, but overall the film is best reserved as a rental.