A macabre comedy with strong echoes of “Sweeney Todd,” “The Green Butchers” will be either a turn-on or turn-off, depending on one’s sense of humor. This second outing as director by prolific screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen is not as fast-paced as his previous “Flickering Lights” but has enough appeal in its oddball story and strong cast to register as a moderate success in selected fests or arthouses. The grisly goings-on will not, however, be for all tastes.
Svend (Mads Mikkelsen, with a bizarre, high-forehead haircut) and Bjarne (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) work in a butcher shop. Tired of their bullying boss, the two decide to start their own organic butcher shop and, to get some seed money, Bjarne orders doctors to turn off the life-support system that’s kept his twin brother alive since a car accident. That way, he inherits the family fortune.
However, Svend and Bjarne’s shop doesn’t attract any customers. Then one morning Svend finds a dead man in back of the shop, the victim of an accident. When his former boss comes to buy meat for a large dinner, Svend cuts up one of the dead man’s legs, soaks it in marinade and puts it on sale. The result is a huge success.
But customer demand creates an equal demand for new bodies, so Svend turns to killing people to get fresh supplies. Meanwhile, Bjarne’s twin brother woke from his coma when the life-support system was turned off, and he is now wandering around town trying to find Bjarne. And, Svend and Bjarne’s ex-boss is getting suspicious.
Jensen’s previous scripts include Soren Kragh-Jacobsen’s “Mifune” and “Skagerrak,” plus Susannne Bier’s “Open Hearts.” However, his love for more violent and darkly comic fare has already surfaced in “Flickering Lights” and “In China They Eat Dogs.”
Latter pics were set among Copenhagen petty gangsters, whereas “The Green Butchers” is set in a middle-class Danish suburb in a time that’s never specifically defined (a mix of the 1920s and the present). Characters are a traditional Jensen blend of the simpleminded or outright stupid and are hardly sympathetic. However, as played by the deadpan Mikkelsen and Kaas, the two leads do emerge as kind of likable, in part thanks to Jensen’s knack for balancing comedy and the macabre without ever stepping over the line.
Ending is both dramatically satisfying and as politically incorrect as the whole movie. Gore quotient is fairly high but not excessive.