An investigative reporter works to solve the mystery of a haunted house constructed from rooms of the deceased.
David J. Schow
Darren Lynn Bousman
And here’s my version – to properly sum up my feelings on the forthcoming film from Darren Lynn Bousman (best known for several installments of the Saw franchise) – entitled Abattoir (definition: slaughterhouse).
“Payoff’s a bitch.” As in, the climax/big reveal/payoff of this amazing flick is absolutely bitchin’!
Is that a stretch? Perhaps, but I need to make it completely clear how much I adored this film. So allow me a bit of leverage.
Based on a graphic novel developed by Bousman, the story follows Julia (Jessica Lowndes), a real estate reporter for a major print newspaper in New Orleans. She’s a go-getter and clearly obsessed with old-timey things (her attitude and wardrobe channel Captain America’s Peggy Carter). She’s busy with her career, but has plenty of time to spend with her sister, brother-in-law and dear nephew – until one day they’re brutally murdered. A suspect is arrested and detained, and Julia (wanting to do deeper investigative work at her job anyway) can’t help but dig further into the case, especially when her sister’s home is purchased by a mysterious party, only one week later. But that’s not all. The murder room (her nephew’s bedroom) and all of its contents are completely removed from the home’s structure. And as Julia redirects her grief and natural investigative skills into finding the mysterious purchaser – leading her to a rural and strange village called New English – she quickly discovers that this creepy “room removal” is far from a one-time oddity.
As our curious and driven reporter Julia, Jessica Lowndes is fantastic. The character’s never more than a breath away from tearful and confused grief, and these moments immediately get the audience on board with Julia. There’s never a question as to why she might put herself in danger (it’s far too common to question “stupid” character actions in horror films, but not here), and that cements our loyalty to Julia. Lowndes’ best moment is the discovery of her brutally murdered family. The raw horror you will read on her face is pure acting gold – a treasure.
And everyone’s fave horror heroine – the inimitable Lin Shaye (the Insidious franchise) – shows up as Allie, a resident of the frightening small town, New English. I spoke to Ms. Shaye just prior to the screening and she said that she really loved this character, and once you view the film, you’ll see why. And in the Q&A following the screening, she mentioned the fact that some of Allie’s best lines were to be cut, but she went to the mat to keep them intact — good call. Shaye has a moment in the film, as Allie longingly and confusedly looks into her mirror – removing her makeup. It’s one beautiful take as she rubs her hands down over her face, pulling her skin taught. We may not know Shaye’s inner monologue for Allie at the moment, but we are intrigued and we are made to further love all that Shaye can do. It’s a frightening moment as we see Allie battling demons, organizing conflicting thoughts and perhaps making decisions. There’s no dialogue in the scene, but as always, Shaye sells it. Next chance I get to talk to her, I will find out what Allie was thinking in those moments.
And as Jebediah Crone, the eccentric man with the deep pockets and dire need to possess these grisly murder rooms, Dayton Callie (Sons of Anarchy) has brought to life what could easily become the new horror hero – joining the ranks of the true greats. Crone’s intelligent and well spoken, evil to the core, controlling and full of the magnetic charms of the best carnival barkers. Oddly, I thought the character sounded like Bernie Sanders (not attempting to offend in this political season – his gruff voice just made me think of this Democratic contender), and Callie looked like what could be the older brother of actor Paul Giamatti. And as grotesque as Crone’s plans are, you’ll easily fall in love with this character – through the perfect combination of Callie’s performance and the rich dialogue he is given.
I also want to give a shout-out to the actor portraying the New English Sheriff. He’s un-credited on the Abattoir IMDb, which is a shame, as his performance in the film is genuine and engaging and fun. So forgive my apparently puny research skills — ’cause this guy deserves all kudos. And please, readers and/or filmmakers — feel free to educate me on who this gifted thespian is. Thank you very kindly.
The visual effects in Abattoir are breath-taking. I can’t spoil the marvelous goodies by saying which ones most impressed, but all throughout the film – like me, you’ll be thinking – “Are they going to take us there? Please say they’re going to take us there.” You’re never quite certain if that payoff (see above) will come, and there is some teasing… but when we finally take those steps as an audience and Julia opens a very specific door, what we see will surpass any expectations you may have had. I apologize for this rather cryptic chatter, but once you start watching the film, you’ll know what it is I’m referencing and what it is you’ll be eagerly anticipating. Such a grand payoff containing a disturbing series of images which will stick with you. And this moment comes following some unfortunately slow pacing issues in the second act (the only thing keeping this film from a perfect score). But you’ll immediately forget and forgive any shortcomings once the reveal comes to light. It’s that chilling and that memorable.
You’ll also be overjoyed by – and appreciative of – the dialogue in the film. Director Bousman said in the Q&A that there was some apprehension by the higher-ups; regarding the heightened speech, but frankly, the film wouldn’t have had the same charms without these particularly sharp lines. Bousman said that he was in a very noir period of movie-watching at this time in his life, and that this phase very much influenced Abattoir. And so the film (just like Julia – as I mentioned above) is in some sort of a time warp – back to the black and white, Humphrey Bogart days so many decades ago. It’s certainly not how people today speak, but there’s a strange and nostalgic quality at having these extra-long and overly-descriptive speeches from the characters – in a film set today – rife with cell phones, current computers and modern, well-equipped vehicles.
Also during the Q&A, Bousman made it known that Abattoir was a particularly difficult shoot. Several delays over several years – due to an AD death and other unfortunate circumstances – made it seem as though the film may never come to fruition. Not to overstate it, or sound melodramatic or kooky, but we should all count our blessings that the universe saw fit to see Abattoir through to the end. I’m quite certain we’ll be talking about this film again – as the 2016 wrap-up and “best of” list makes it way to press later this year.
And finally, I must give a quick shout-out to composer Mark Sayfritz for a haunting and perfectly-tailored score. Soundtrack on the way perhaps? For those quiet rainy nights alone in your large home? Perhaps not.
Abattoir had its World Premiere at this year’s LA Film Festival. No word yet on a wider release, but man, oh man – do not delay in seeking this out (they had to offer a second public screening at LA Film Fest, due to high demand – just sayin’).