Monday, May 22, 2017

Parts of a Whole

In a time of uncertainty, let us take comfort in the things we know we can always count on: the sun shall always rise, Law & Order shall always air in reruns on at least two channels at any given time, and Darren Lynn Bousman will always make ambitious and heavily styled horror movies. 

Quick Plot: Julia is a low level real estate reporter who harbors deep affection for crime ledgers and 1940s detective noir. With blood red lipstick and a wardrobe curated by the most precious of all ModCloth stylists, she spends most of her time avoiding her kind ex-boyfriend cop Declan (The Ruins Joe Anderson) or dining with the only family she has: her older sister Amanda and ailing young son Charlie.
Also, one assumes, accumulating a LOT of style tips from Pinterest.

One night, Amanda's family is brutally and seemingly nonsensically murdered in their home. Ever the investigative reporter, Julia becomes immediately suspicious when the house is sold less than a week after the massacre, and even more unhinged when she discovers the room in which the murder took place has been completely removed.

A little plucky journalism leads Julia to learn that many a "murder room" has been sold over the last 60 years, and all to the ominously named Jebediah Crone (Sons of Anarchy's Dayton Callie, now with hair). All leads seem to point towards a ghost town of sorts called New English, which perhaps not coincidentally turns out to be the birthplace of the adopted Julia.

With Declan at her heels, Julia takes a visit to New English and meets to always welcome Lin Shaye, playing a loopy townie who reveals some of the town's dark secrets. More are to come, of course, but that will involve the ultimate haunted house, decently rendering CGI ghostings, and a dash of violence that isn't entirely unpredictable.

Abattoir is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, a filmmaker who embodies some of the best and worst qualities of 21st century horror. Bousman cut his teeth on some of the better Saw sequels (parts 2, 3, & in my mind, the underrated 4) before making one of the most polarizing genre movies I can think of, Repo! The Genetic Opera. Unlike his Saw predecessor James Wan, Bousman seems content to stay in the horror genre, continuing to dabble in everything from ambitious remakes (Mother's Day) to horror musicals (The Devil's Carnival).
I genuinely respect Bouseman, and certainly appreciate both his affection for the genre and his energy at telling new stories. Written by Christopher Monfette (who works on the quite good 12 Monkeys TV SyFy Channel series) Abattoir is a genuinely unique tale that, while clearly influenced by common horror tropes, is telling a completely original story.

I just wished I liked it more.
This isn't a bad film by any (genre fan) measure, but it just doesn't fit together as nicely as, say, a mansion in a ghost town composed of a dozen murder rooms. The core concept of a town that was suckered into selling its soul to a false prophet is great on its own, just as the ultimate haunted house made of 60 years worth of violent crime nooks could easily make a decent thriller. Maybe Bouseman's problem lies in the combination. The story has a LOT of big chunks (murder room mystery, ghost town history, adoption secrets, relationship trouble, little boy dying of disease that doesn't mean anything once he's brutally murdered, etc.) and the final product feels as though it never got the script edits needed to make each component count. The cast is adequate (Anderson has always been a fine presence in the genre, and at the risk of sounding cruel, Lowndes is stunning enough to somewhat make up for her fairly bland energy as an actress). Like most of Bouseman's work, there's a lot of visual style that's not quite fully realized in a way that works with the overall tone.  

And yet, I find myself giving the film a mildly passing grade simply because I've never quite seen anything fully like it. It's an admirable attempt to put a spin on a hybrid ghost/detective story, and I certainly appreciate that. 

It just doesn't mean it all works. 

High Points

Low Points
I mean, ugh, it doesn't add up to much

Lessons Learned
In the south, a common expression you might find is "come on in"

Realtors don't have myths

For the many Mad Men fans who've always wondered what became of Sal the art director, worry not: he's comfortable toiling away as the editor of a New York tabloid that nobody reads

Look, for all the complaints about modern horror being stuck in a rut, you have to give a guy like Darren Lynn Bousman some credit for constantly finding new angles in. Abattoir is a highly flawed film, but it certainly gives its audience something new. You can find it streaming on Netflix Instant Watch, so for 90 minutes, why not give it a low expectations try?


  1. I agree with all your points.
    The movie is stuffed full of fun/odd moments playing to different rythms.
    What's the opposite of 'gestalt'... something being LESS than the sum of its parts?

    Still, pretty interesting and I'm glad I saw it.

    1. Now I'm trying to find a new word...maybe "abattoirial?"