Butchers is killer comedy

Dec. 14, 2004, midnight | By Anuja Shah | 15 years, 6 months ago

Chilling and hilarious with a peculiar aftertaste

Mixing unwitting locals, an ambitious (and slightly neurotic) butcher and a functional meat locker, The Green Butchers, directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, presents a recipe for disaster-turned-dinner.

Reminiscent of Sweeney Todd with similarly sinister implications, the Danish film is remarkably well presented and employs an enjoyable sort of perverse humor: not offensive, but disturbingly hilarious if taken lightly. Toward the end, however, the morbid comedy morphs into an insightful psychological profile that births the movie's moral: Everyone's a little bit insane. As far as morals go, it's not deep, but with the context of the movie behind it, it's rather endearing.

Well, as endearing as morbid comedies get. Vegetarians and the relatively innocent are advised to see a Disney movie; Delicatessen enthusiasts, dig in. And feel free to make a date out of this movie (with the right person), but eat dinner long beforehand.

The movie begins appallingly normally, set in modern-day Denmark. The Green Butchers are buddies Svend (Mads Mikkelsen) and Bjarne (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), both looking to break out of subordinate slicing and open their own shop. They get their break, but business is far from booming until Svend tries to make the best of a chilling mistake: After accidentally locking the electrician in the freezer one evening, Svend fillets him and sells him to unsuspecting customers, hoping to get rid of the body in any way possible. When the peculiar meat becomes an overnight sensation, Svend refuses to relinquish his newfound popularity. Now, his messy challenge is to maintain a constant supply of the meat. Hopefully, no one will miss a few locals.

Although the movie is fairly graphically gristly, it's redeemed somewhat by eventual depth. As the movie progresses, it delves into the scarring impact of neglect on the human psyche. It implicitly links Svend and Bjarne's moral perversions to their brushes with trauma and follows them as emotional mending helps stop their disturbing behavior. For a movie whose initial focus is sausage, this is pretty profound.

Though some gratuitous gore and a flat ending detract from the plot, the butchers of Butchers redeem the film as solid actors. As goofy as it sounds, Mikkelsen and Kaas capture the chemistry of (neurotic) old friends uncannily. While Svend frets and sweats, going through manic episodes with unabashed intensity, Bjarne is withdrawn but smolders with enough violence to power an eruption or two. Kaas also plays a double role in The Green Butchers as Bjarne's brain-damaged brother Eigil, who is expressive and compellingly tender.

The Green Butchers is a familiar, but not tired story; it's a merrily macabre medley of the chilling, silly and profound that make life a little crazy and thoroughly worthwhile.

The Green Butchers runs 100 minutes and is rated R for language, graphic violence and drug use. It is in Danish/German with English subtitles and is currently playing at Landmark theaters.

Tags: print

Anuja Shah. Anuja "Otto" Shah, a Junior in the CAP, -is thoroughly excited to be part of SCO, -enjoys the word "fiasco", -aspires to be monstrously cool, -remains prepared to settle for being vaguely nifty, and -probably owes you money, but has fled the country. More »

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