The film begins when Sarah (Sarah Small), steps out of a small theatre to answer an awfully fraught telephone call from a petrified friend. As Sarah screams into her phone for her friend to “leave, get out and run”, we gauge her sense of fear by the spinning camera lens, flashing lights and loud noises – as though she is about to pass out as all the blood rushes to her head. As the camera blurs to a fade it again re-focuses on Sarah, however this time she is waking up next in a room with some shifty looking men. Did she dream the telephone call? Was it her subconscious screaming at her to get out? Did she manifest her fear through the dreamed conversation? These early scenes set the tone for Butter on the Latch, a film which has instances of such rapidity – manifested by intercutting sequences, flashing scenes and questionable scenarios – that it leaves you questioning and querying everything that you see and hear – did that really flash up? Did I really see that? What was that? – before returning to complete calmness the next instant.
The majority of the film takes place at a Balkan Folk Camp in Mendecino, California where Sarah and her old friend Isolde (Isolde Chae-Lawrence) are retreating after the latter’s long-tern break-up. Although Isolde wants to forget about the relationship and move on, Sarah keeps introducing her with the line: “This is Isolde. She has just come out of a relationship”. These two supposed close friends have little in common: they both spend more time apart than together or, in Sarah’s case, in the company of fellow camper Steph (Charlie Hewson). When the friends are together the horror element is very much at the fore: the lush green meadows and calm chanting that make up the majority of the camp’s daytime activities counteracted by night time scenes of torchlight, infra-red and rapid cuts that are undoubtedly similar to The Blair Witch Project. When one of the camp’s workers tells Sarah that there are spirits around that can enter anything – including water, and harm the water – the true beauty and terror of the natural world is made all too real.
Decker utilises the forest location to great effect, while the real-life camp adds an authenticity and un-staged element to the production; the often unsettling sounds – chanting, screaming and hollering – contrasting against glorious close-ups of luminous centipedes, trees and wood-chip. It is a film with the underlying message: this is the natural world. Anything can happen.