If you’ve been wondering what directing duo The Butcher Brothers (Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores) have been up to for the last few years, you’re not alone. Known for vampire flicks like The Hamiltons and its sequel The Thompsons, as well as the Lovecraftian time warp The Violent Kind, the pair’s last feature together was 2013’s Holy Ghost People. While Altieri/Flores films could never be confused with multi-million dollar blockbusters, they possess a creepy charm that makes them genuinely compelling.
Now they’ve released A Beginner’s Guide to Snuff, a horror comedy which focuses on what happens when two brothers (Dresden and Dominic) decide to kidnap an actress named Jennifer (Bree Williamson) in order to coax a believable performance out of her for their fake snuff film.
Unfortunately, any chance this potentially intriguing narrative idea had to develop into something substantial is squandered almost immediately. Dresden (Joey Kern) tries to get Dominic (Luke Edwards) enthused about the potentially criminal endeavor by talking about “the whole handheld found footage craze,” a groan-worthy line that makes the movie feel hopelessly out of date. While having the brothers acknowledge that they are actually creating a found footage film is a neat concept, the movie doesn’t do anything with it. Perhaps if A Beginner’s Guide to Snuff had been released a decade ago, its premise would feel fresh and edgy, but as last year’s Blair Witch proved, if you’re not going to do something unique with found footage, you might as well forget it.
Additionally, A Beginner’s Guide to Snuff can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a satire, a broad comedy, or a social justice horror film, and its inability to fully embrace one (or all) of those subgenres prevents it from being anything more than middling. There’s the stereotypical gay Latino landlord Jorge (Perry Laylon Ojeda), and the fact that neither Dresden nor Dominic can figure out that he’s not into the ladies. The few scenes that indicate Dresden’s history of violent behavior and mental health problems are so tonally at odds with the rest of the film that they come across as forced and unconvincing.
The word “violence,” however, should be used in quotation marks as the bloodbath that ensues is too cartoonish to feel like a real threat. Furthermore, not-so-subtle hints about a serial killer who castrates their victims gives away the movie’s plot twist almost immediately.
The heart of A Beginner’s Guide to Snuff seems to be an attempt to examine and expose the negative aspects of the cinematic male gaze and rape culture. Dominic asks Dresden, “What’s with all the hatred towards women?” which is followed by Jennifer’s proclamation that “It’s all about you and what you think you deserve.” Such ideas are provocative, but there’s too much telling and not enough showing. Nacho Vigolando’s Colossal is far more skillful at not only blending disparate genres like the rom com and horror movies in its skewering of misogyny.
As disappointing as A Beginner’s Guide to Snuff is, I haven’t given up on The Butcher Brothers yet. Hopefully, their next project will be a step forwards instead of backwards.
A Beginner’s Guide to Snuff was released on July 11 on VOD and DVD.