“The Butcher” (2009) – A.J. Hakari

As filmmaking gimmicks go, the first-person perspective is a step above 3-D. It does put you right in the show, minus the headache wearing those glasses gives you. Still, beyond that, there’s little use for it; some of these flicks would’ve been even better off were they shot traditionally. But the least of The Butcher’s problems is failing to connect story and cinematography. A late entrant into the torture porn game, the film is certainly unsettling but not much else. Evoking the right reactions is horror’s bread and butter, but I’m not sure the foul mood The Butcher creates is the intended result.

One of South Korea’s most grisly exports, The Butcher wastes no time in getting right to the carnage. The picture concerns a quartet of unfortunate souls bound and gagged in an abandoned warehouse. They find themselves unwilling participants in the ultimate horror show, a snuff film starring a chainsaw-wielding psycho wearing a pig’s head. After two fellow victims bite the dust, a husband and wife are next led to the slaughter, where the former is forced to choose between saving his spouse or his own skin. In the meantime, the film shifts between different cameras, one handled by a demented director and the other strapped to the husband’s head, chronicling every grueling moment for the sake of some sicko’s jollies.

I doubt those behind The Butcher knew how prophetic their inaugural image of a guy whizzing on a wall would be. After all, you spend the entire film witnessing what could have been a truly visceral experience letting potential run down its leg. Seeing said lackey stumble around his dilapidated digs also brings to mind how the flick will leave most of its audience feeling: confused and lost in a place they want to leave immediately. The Butcher is the result of a current movement’s efforts to bring horror back to basics, to focus on overall effect rather than heedless frills. It’s a good idea on paper, but when director Kim Jin-won abandons all pretenses, he includes a sense of purpose with them. Once you remove all the little things that make certain horror films more rounded, what’s left? In this case, a lot of wailing and bloodletting, with nothing to show for it but some sore throats and stained clothes.

The topic of gory thrills as entertainment is better suited for essays to explore, but I did ponder the notion as I watched The Butcher. Here is a film that might have been saved were it a satirical Trojan horse, condemning shock cinema by way of a work that appears to celebrate it. But if The Butcher possessed such ulterior motives, they were drowned out by Mr. Motel Hell up there and his peacemaker. I’ll concede that the flick is especially effective early on, when viewers have nothing but the distant roar of a chainsaw to base their fears on. The simple approach may be what some fans are looking for, but color me crazy, I wanted more. I need a reason to invest myself in characters who go to hell and back other than them just being in the horrible situation they are. Otherwise, it gets dull watching the flick try to push your buttons and not care how disgusting it becomes in doing so.

Buyer beware, for The Butcher is a very intense flick. Even in the wake of Hostel and the Saw saga, there’s some mighty disturbing imagery here. But beyond the nauseating effects work, The Butcher is a journey into boredom, complimented by more gratuitous cursing than a Rob Zombie movie. The flick represents Tartan Films’ return to the Asia Extreme scene, but you’re likely to find more fulfilling frights elsewhere in their library.

Rating: ★½☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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