Mention a Lifetime movie to someone. Anyone. You’re going to get the same reaction. A frown followed by a brief complaint that every Lifetime movie is the same: noble, put upon woman deals with abusive man. What I’ve been learning in my Very Special Journey is that this is not accurate at all. Though the entertainment is still geared primarily toward women, the brand has been subtly shifting toward procedural and true crime drama. This week’s entry, Blue-Eyed Butcher, is part of that shift, but it’s also completely off the rails. It seems to exist solely to undermine every Lifetime movie stereotype there is.
The film is intercut between the courtship, wedding, and rocky married life of Jeff and Susan Wright, and Susan’s eventual murder trial for stabbing Jeff literally all the times. What is unclear is how much the flashbacks are influenced by the testimony given. At times, it seems like a Rashomon kind of situation — and yes, I just compared a Lifetime movie to a masterpiece by one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived — where the flashbacks dutifully play out what we’re seeing in the past. Yet, and this is important, Jeff is dead. He doesn’t get to tell his story. So this might be Rashomon with only one person, or as it’s also known, a terrible idea. The testimony doesn’t always mesh perfectly with the flashbacks either, so I don’t know what they’re going for.
On the surface, Blue-Eyed Butcher feels very much like the stereotypical Lifetime film. Susan is a pretty blonde (played by Sara Paxton of The Innkeepers) who marries the handsome man of her dreams. Her dreams soon become a nightmare (TM, the Lifetime Network) as Jeff turns first irresponsible and then abusive. Finally, Susan can take no more and kills her husband in self defense. She’s put on trial, and while the sleazy DA makes leering comments to the jury, her heroic single-mom defense attorney wins the case. Well, that’s how this thing is supposed to play out, anyway. Blue-Eyed Butcher seems to delight in presenting what’s “supposed” to happen, then defiantly going in the opposite direction.
Jeff and Susan meet in a ‘90s teen movie, as a title sweeps in to tell us we’re “5 YEARS EARLIER.” Susan and all her friends are on the beach in bikinis, which is a weird choice for the network. They’re all pretty young, and have those kinds of merciless Hollywood bodies that would, at best, be of no interest to your stereotypical Lifetime viewer. Anyway, she meets Jeff, they have an instant connection, and start courting. And though Jeff goes to a TV strip club (a place where men can watch women dance in a variety of concealing lingerie), he’s totally cool with taking things slow with Susan.
A red flag goes up when Susan reveals she worked at a strip club for a couple months. In the “present,” the DA grills her over her past, and Susan claims to have enforced a two foot rule. That’s a good way to get fired from a strip club, I’d think. Anyway, Susan and Jeff have sex eventually (in one of those rooms that’s 90% candle), and right afterwards, Jeff busts out a whole Ziploc bag filled with jazz cigarettes. As the movie progresses, Jeff’s drug use increases to downright cartoonish levels. Soon he’s smoking weed in the office and snorting coke in his driveway.
At this point in the story, the DA starts hinting that Susan got pregnant on purpose to trick Jeff into marriage. Which is… what? Did a MRA hijack this part of the script or something? They get married and soon have another kid as the marriage quickly turns into what I’d been expecting all along. Jeff is pretty obviously abusive, and it comes up in the trial that he had previous assault and possession convictions. Jeff’s abuse leans toward the surreal. Sure, he kept a weapon under the bed to threaten Susan with, but it wasn’t a gun or a knife. Oh no, Jeff kept fucking nunchucks under there, like he’s a Ninja Turtle or something. Maybe he’s abusive because he thinks Susan is in the Foot Clan?
The DA points out that in Susan’s history of abuse, she never went to the hospital or suffered a broken bone. This is a bullshit argument, but one that might work on a jury, since Jeff looked like he freebased shark testosterone, and Susan looked like she should be living under a tree and teaching Bran Stark about warging. Susan’s friend Allie supports the abuse narrative at least circumstantially, but she brings up an even odder part of the movie. Allie is played by Annie Wersching, known to 24 fans as Renee Walker or by her nickname “Jill Bauer.” She just barges into the movie, and we’re expected to just kind of know who she is and be okay with her. I was convinced she was Renee Walker, undercover and rooting out terrorists in the suburbs, and based on her interest in Susan, our Blue-Eyed Butcher is the number one suspect.
Eventually, Jeff hits a kid (one of his own — I didn’t mean to imply he might be hiring children for that purpose), and that’s the final straw. Susan ties him up and stabs him 193 times, which seems a little excessive to me. She then buries him in the backyard and goes on about her life. This is when the movie starts shifting again. In the beginning it was kind of against Susan, hinting she used her pregnancy to force the marriage, then it’s on her side with the abuse, and now it paints her as a soulless killer. Its ambivalence shares some DNA with Lizzie Borden. Susan’s defense hinges on some kind of fugue state in the week that prevented her from even knowing what she did, yet there are hints that it’s all calculated: timing her crying for the presence of a jury, an ill-advised yard sale of Jeff’s things, and of course the final scene that all but tells us what to think. The amazing part is all the crime covering up is scored with sort of wacky prank music, as though Susan isn’t hiding a body, she’s hiding clowns! No wait, that’s like a thousand times worse.
The crowning moment of insanity in the movie is not the murder scene itself, but the re-enactment of it. I talked a bit about what a standard Lifetime movie “should” have, and it specified the genders of the lawyers involved. Blue-Eyed Butcher, true to form, reverses that with W. Earl Brown (Deadwood’s Dan Dority) and Lisa Edelstein as the harridan of a DA. Edelstein mounts her assistant in the courtroom on the actual bloody mattress, and shows the jury how the killing went down. It’s utter madness. This works, and Susan gets sent away for 25 years. Good news though, she’s up for parole in 2014!
What did we learn? If you’re going to kill your husband, maybe you don’t stab him 193 times. Try 150 and see how that goes.