Abattoir (2016) Film Review from the 22nd Annual Los Angeles Film Festival, a movie directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, starring Jessica Lowndes, Joe Anderson, Lin Shaye, Michael Pare, and Dayton Callie.
Stepping into Darren Lynn Bousman’s Abattoir, I – presumably like many in the audience – had no idea it was based on a comic book. Instead, I went in assuming that it was another run-of-the-mill horror movie that would unnerve me for an hour and a half before fading into the recesses of my memory. As the film went on, however, I found the word that most described my emotions during the film was not fear of the perils that awaited the protagonists, but curiosity as to what they would learn or do next. In hindsight, this was because Abattoir is not so much a horror film as it is an homage to film noir with comic book sensibilities and horrific elements (both of which are meant in the most positive way possible).
Juxtaposing the witty dialogue and characterizations of 1940’s mystery films with a modern setting and technology, the movie spends some time trying to reconcile the two worlds into one. Understandably, it is not the easiest of tasks, as demonstrated when the audience first sees Julia (Lowndes), the protagonist. Introduced as a brash, well-dressed reporter who goes back and forth with her no-nonsense boss in a darkly-illuminated office, the film then cuts to her more conventionally-lit home where her very modern family engages in very modern conversation and activities. After first seeing this sequence of events unfold, viewers can’t be blamed if their first thought is time has gotten out of joint. But as the initial confusion fades away, we realize that Julia is not a refugee from a Humphrey Bogart film, but a retrophile who adores the past. In all fairness, though, the distinction becomes increasingly irrelevant as the movie continues and the story gets weirder.
Fascinated by a string of gruesome murders that are connected only by the fact that an unknown party purchased the homes in which they were committed only to disappear after having the rooms where they occurred removed, Julia pursues the story in spite of others telling her to avoid getting too close to it. She becomes incredibly close to it, however, when her family members become the latest victims, spurring her to double her efforts and bring the responsible party to justice. Alternatively aiding her and hindering her is Detective Grady (Anderson), another noir holdover whose witticisms and gravely-voice complement our intrepid young journalist well. Uncovering piece after piece of information, the two wind up in the remote town of New English, where the only friendly face is Allie (Shaye), an elderly homeowner who appears to be the last sane – or at least nice – person in the area. Funnily enough, the only person who might be nicer than Allie is Jedediah Crone (Callie), the silver-tongued cult leader and once-damned instigator of the events that brought Julia and Grady to New English. Speaking persuasively and poetically, Crone openly boasts of his plan to use the murders as the foundations for the titular abattoir. To return to Hell, he argues, he and his followers must “build my own hell.”
As a genre film, Abattoir strides from one to another, borrowing generously without ever letting itself become wrapped up in one. This provides us with the unique spectacle of noirish heroes bickering back and forth in the present day and facing off against a charismatic cult leader easily at home in an old Hammer Horror film. Be sure to check out Abattoir if you’re interested in seeing a modern movie that doesn’t let convention restrain it and tells a story that only it could tell.
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