Abattoir. 2016. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Christopher Monfette.
Starring Jessica Lowndes, Joe Anderson, Lin Shaye, Michael Paré, Dayton Callie, Bryan Batt, John McConnell, Aiden Flowers, Jay Huguley, J. LaRose, Thomas Francis Murphy, Terence Rosemore, Julianne Alexander, Brian Oerly, & Charles Barber. Dark Web Productions/Les Enfants Terribles/Luminary Entertainment.
Rated R. 98 minutes.
I dig Darren Lynn Bousman’s career as a director, for the most part. He directed my second favourite Saw film after the original, the third and twisty entry into the franchise. Then there’s Mother’s Day, The Devil’s Carnival, and his segment from Tales of Halloween. In between are a few other, lesser pieces of work, but still, he keeps swinging for the weird and the wild, and sometimes the unexpected.
Abattoir hit me out of nowhere. I’d not read anything about it, only that Bousman also did it in comic form, as well as plans lots of exciting stuff to come including more issues of the comic and possibly a sequel. What does it for me is that screenwriter Christopher Monfette keeps this as a slow burn story crossing over from real, criminal horror into a supernatural nightmare world. I consider this a modern Gothic tale of grief. Perhaps the thing I find most interesting about the story is how the villainous man with whom the protagonist eventually struggles, Jebediah Crone (Dayton Callie), doesn’t actually show up in a real appearance until fairly late in the film. We carry along for much of the time with Julia Talben (Jessica Lowndes), the plight of her situation engaging enough to keep the viewer hooked. But gradually, out come the frights. And by the end you’ll either be tormented by Jebediah, or you’ll crave another tale from Bousman’s Abattoir.
I’m forever a fan of films that mix up the genres a little. Like how Julia has such a good relationship with Grady (Joe Anderson), an officer of the law, so part of Abattoir works as an investigation. A deadly home invasion leads to Julia sleuthing in an attempt at figure out the mysteries of her family, as she’s left the only living member. As the mysteries begin unravelling, the plot becomes Gothic, and the past touches the present. Julia pieces everything together at the same pace as the audience, allowing for maximum tension in certain scenes. Particularly, once Allie (Lin Shaye in another great horror role) shows up there’s a nicely accomplished drop of exposition, when she goes into master storytelling detail about the burning question: who is Jebediah Crone?
“If something could be done to offend heaven, it was done here.”
The concept alone of Abattoir is beyond intriguing. Almost daring you to imagine – how? – then by the time Crone actually arrives and we begin to understand his ultimate goal, his master plan, Bousman takes us for a morbid ride through a scary place. For the longest time, Callie’s Crone is unseen, only in extreme close-ups of his suit, his jawline, not fully visible for over 40 minutes. Then, seeing him has more effect. He appears in an old film reel, our first real introduction to him. His preaching sounds like that of a maniac. Not long after, the murder starts, which only gets more insane. Without spoiling too much, Callie is awesome as Jebediah. He is genuinely unpleasant, giving Crone a disturbing air. The way he plays the character without too much flair is typical of Callie; he’s a meat and potatoes-type actor, whose talent is immense and nonchalant at once. They make him look especially crazy with the hair and his ancient suit. Having him not arrive fully until so late is the perfect touch for his character. As if we’re seeing the man behind the curtain in horrific glory.
Something about the way things feel gives this a strange feeling of not taking place in modern day – even though it does – and like we’re back in the ’60s, or who knows when. The art design, the sets, even some of the clothing, the performances; in each of these areas, Bousman offers up a heady mix of atmosphere. The cinematography helps, although much of this is accomplished in how the acting plays, and how the locations/sets look. Certain CGI effects aren’t helpful in that respect. They’re okay, but take away a little from some greatness. If it weren’t for that, Abattoir would be close to perfection in modern horror.
The scene when Allie shows Julia and Grady the film reel is pretty intense. The way it’s projected on the wall, the rickety sound of the film flowing through the projector, then the bits of fingers and blood on the floor of the church where Crone preaches is a grim reminder of how real everything is, no matter its supernatural twist. “Better living through sin and sacrifice,” Allie explains. You’re god damn right. The viscera splattered everywhere beneath the feet of Crone, who sells the citizens of that little town a bill of violence, is so brief that I’m amazed how effective this one shot was for me. That’s a small testament to some of the imagery in this film.
Another moment, one that reoccurs in a couple scenes, is when the unnerving townspeople appear in the dark. The first time we see this is when Julia looks for information at a town services office; while being all but kicked out the door, she sees a group of people, barely covered by the shadows and standing just beyond a doorway. Creepier still is when they hover in the shadows around Allie’s bed, inching into the light. A simple, affecting image. This second time is super ominous since that’s when we finally see more of Jebediah in the present, instead of simply on an old recording. Furthermore, the nailbiting thrills start coming at a quicker pace, propelling things forward to all that morbid horror fun I cherish.
A 4-star bit of horror. Might even be in the top 20 for me since 2000. Bousman works hard as a horror director. He consistently, since his work on Saw, tries tossing things up, shaking the genre, seeing what comes out. Not always great. Sometimes, it’s amazing. Abattoir is an incredibly tense work at its best of times; horrifying and nasty, too. Jessica Lowndes does a fantastic job in the lead role, as do Joe Anderson, Dayton Callie, and Lin Shaye at her side in the supporting roles. You’ll get a nice dose of horror, from straight up blood to ghostly haunting to Gothic-style madness. There’s plenty to enjoy here. Parts of this really thrilled me. Other scenes got under my skin and gave me the chills. For whatever reason, I haven’t stopped thinking about Abattoir since I was lucky enough to enjoy experiencing it.