Butchers review – worn-out horror tropes salvaged by good performances | Film

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Here is another one of those horror flicks where young people on holiday in rural places are terrorised by crazed degenerates. Even if Butchers is more preoccupied with paying homage to its slasher ancestors than carving out its own turf, the opening scene is atmospheric enough. Against the icy canvas of a snow-covered graveyard, two brothers, Owen (Simon Phillips) and Oswald (Michael Swatton), are burying their mother: the occasion is solemn as Owen delivers a half-hearted two-sentence eulogy. But things kick off when they glimpse a car breaking down, and straight away we are into gore as the brothers ambush and brutally terrorise their first victims.

Unfortunately, Butchers struggles to keep up this momentum after the film cuts to two 20-something couples speeding through this cursed terrain. (The brothers are not professional butchers but rather hobbyists with a makeshift slaughterhouse.) These young city folks are eminently dislikable – two of them are hooking up and cheating on their respective partners – yet none of these details helps flesh them out, nor encourage much sympathy at their gory demise.

Backwoods killers are a common enough device, but Butchers takes the odd decision to have its Canadian killers speak with a southern drawl à la Texas Chainsaw Massacre, an intentional incongruity that doesn’t really work. Heavy-handed sound effects don’t help, either.

Nevertheless, despite the meandering script, it’s Phillips’ performance that keeps the film’s pulse going. His Owen is exhilaratingly unpredictable, alternating between moments of meticulous villainy and sheer lunacy – one moment he will be refitting a spooky music box while eyeing his oblivious prey, next he will be whacking his victim bloodily, channelling a kind of biblical righteousness that makes him slippery, fascinating and, most importantly, terrifying to watch. Despite Phillips’ cleaver-wielding swagger, however, Butchers is pretty much dead meat, an amalgam of worn-out tropes unsuccessfully zombified to life.

• Released on 22 February on digital platforms.

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Source: The Guardian
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