Backwoods Slasher Butchers (2021) Is a Cut Below the Rest
First Wide Release: January 12, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Adrian Langley
Writer: Adrian Langley, Daniel Weissenberger
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Starring: Simon Phillips, Michael Swatton, Julie Mainville
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
A couple are driving down a lonely road in the forest when their car breaks down unexpectedly. Not long after they are attacked by a menacing force. Seasons pass and a group of hapless teenagers experience car trouble on the same stretch of road. They split up and one group starts walking towards the promise of a tow truck while the others stay behind to guard the car. Soon they will discover the same terror that has befallen countless others before them.
Butchers is a gritty yet weak attempt to capture the excitement and terror of the backwoods slashers that came before it.
I must say that I am disappointed Butchers is the first horror film of 2021 I am reviewing for the year. What promised itself to be an offbeat take on the horrors of isolation is just another killer redneck/mutant family slasher in the woods. Not only is the storyline done to death, but there is very little substance behind the script. Never has a slasher felt more repetitive and obvious. Almost every time a scene transition is needed the writers resort to a quick knockout punch to the face to instigate a time lapse. Excuse after excuse is made to keep the kids in the clutches of the bad guys even when they escape. It gets really old really quickly.
Furthermore, the entire film just feels very amateurish. From the paper-thin characters to the title cards interjected at random intervals explaining that the audience has entered “The Beginning of the End” or “The Middle of Nowhere.” It’s not clever or interesting; it’s something you’d see in a wannabe edgy film school project.
There’s not a lot of context for anything but there’s also no explanation for things that would merit explanation. Obviously, there’s something to be said about ambiguity and mystery, but not much is done to really create a story behind the antagonists. And what was actually put in feels lazy and trite. This leads into another big problem with Butchers: the characters are atrocious.
Very little time is spent with our four teenage protagonists, and the time we do spend with them is rather grating which makes them hard to root for. Little investment is put into their characters outside a few throwaway lines which means we watch them interact with each other for bit before they get killed in a variety of uninteresting ways. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, the villains are nothing new. I get why films used to really lean into the whole backwoods hillbilly or mutant thing but the shtick is really starting to feel tiring to me. There have to be more interesting ways to make less populated areas feel scary rather than this. I can’t put this criticism solely on Butchers because it is more indicative of horror as a genre that we still get these movies every year.
It’s clear that the vehicle for Butchers’ lack of creativity comes down to its budget. Set primarily in one location, the film feels more confined from its location than the characters do in their makeshift imprisonment. It kills the suspense and makes it hard to stay invested. Its clear that director Adrian Langley wanted to make a simple survival horror film and I think he sort of succeeds here on a technicality. He did make one! The problem is that the market is so inundated with hundreds of carbon copies of Butchers that it doesn’t stand out in a sea of infinitely more interesting films that have better acting, sharper scripts, and more scares.
If I was digging really deep and being very generous here, there might be something to be said about how women are viewed in society. In the film, women are often referred to as meat, only useful for household chores and getting pregnant, are told to speak only when spoken to, must constantly police their tone and volume, etc. It’s pretty clear that these ideas are repugnant. It comes across as more of an excuse to hate the villains, however, than to offer any sort of meaningful discussion about gender roles. But it really doesn’t get past the pervasive misogyny to really say anything meaningful here. It feels gross to watch but less in a “this is a statement about society” and more so like “why are you putting the audience through this for nothing?”
Slasher fans won’t have much to chew on with this weak entry in the backwoods survival subgenre. Horror fans in general will balk at the flimsy script, irritating characters, and unmemorable chase sequences and kills. I found it to be a rather subpar film with little entertainment value. Butchers is certainly going to fizzle out of any conversations about the year once we start seeing more films officially get released. Let’s hope it fades into obscurity the same way the victims in Butchers disappear on the same 20 miles of road every couple of months: without a trace or satisfying explanation.
Overall Score? 4/10