Abattoir (released December 9, 2016) has a distinguished cast of horror-filmmaking alums who do justice to a good script despite that script’s missteps. In fact, the film is strong enough that when it does hit a sour note, that note is highlighted rather than being skimmed over. Abattoir’s conceit is a fun one: Someone is buying houses where vicious murders took place, “removing” the rooms where the murder happened, and building a house-of-sorts out of those bloody rooms. Not a bad premise, and thankfully, there is more to the story than just a premise. If only all horror could say the same!
The opening credits roll over a fairly effective—though not quite disturbing—montage of murders. This technique works fine until Jebediah Crone (Dayton Callie)’s voiceover begins, at which point, viewers are pulled in too many directions: we are asked to read newspaper headlines, listen to Crone, and watch murders all at once, which makes for a cluttered experience for the audience. And, as is often the case, the opening voiceover/monologue really doesn’t add anything to the film. It’s creepy, and it’s performed well, but as a storytelling element it brings nothing vital to the table. It’s the classic Hollywood mistake of not trusting your audience to keep up.
Right around eight minutes in, viewers may notice something else aurally: The underscoring music has not stopped. At thirteen minutes, it’s still going strong; then it goes away for a short bit, only to resurge once more. It’s not that the music is bad or inappropriate (though it does make use of a couple of horror movie theme standbys), but rather that is not necessary in the scenes under which it plays. The other aspects of the film—acting, camera work, and so on—are doing just fine without the added “scary” music. We have plenty of time for dread to build; the music isn’t helping nor is it necessary. Further along in the movie, the score does a fine job of working in tandem with the other elements of the film. It’s just that at first, the effort to make the story creepy is heavy-handed when it comes to the score.
The entire cast is in fine form in Abattoir. From attractive, young TV vets Jessica Lowndes and Joe Anderson to seasoned screen actors Dayton Callie and Lin Shaye, director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, III, and IV among others) has a plethora of talent to work with, and does so quite well. Shaye, in particular, though not entering until 37 minutes into the film, is outstanding as a slightly crazed older woman with one or twenty secrets about her town and that town’s children. She is a delight to watch. So too is Sons of Anarchy ensemble player Callie as Abattoir’s villain, who never lets his role degenerate into a moustache-twirling parody of evil. Callie’s Crone has motives, and it’s a great lesson in storytelling that Crone’s motives are rooted, ultimately, in love. (Remember, writers, bad guys rarely believe they are bad guys.)
Actors like Callie and Shaye are not, presumably, hired for their “star power.” It seems unlikely there are many people scanning for a movie to watch and saying, “Oh, look! The police chief from Sons Of Anarchy is in this, let’s watch it!” No, it rather feels—in Abattoir, anyway, if not other similar films—that these players are hired because they know their stuff. Callie and Shaye are class acts that elevate the performances of the entire cast.
But again, the film is strong enough that when things go wrong, it’s readily apparent. Apart from the misplaced music in the first quarter of the film, the script falls victim to a number of Hollywood groaners. In how many movies now have we heard a Grizzled Old Vet (usually a police chief or D.A. or newspaper editor) warn his idealistic, dewy-eyed protégé to back off a case by saying, “You’re too close to this, kiddo!” Well, we hear it again. Or how about a Funny Tough Guy quip that comes just before a haymaker to the jaw of an adversary? Ditto. Abattoir doesn’t need these rookie errors. They are minor irritations really, but it is their rarity that makes them so obvious and thus more disappointing in an otherwise solid script. In a more sophomoric effort, such clumsy dialogue would be forgiven because, perhaps ironically, the viewer would subconsciously expect it.
Still, overall, the script stands strongly in a crowded field of ghost stories. The blood and gore is pretty tame, but effective. Bousman resists any impulse to wallow in gore in a story that very easily could have jumped headlong into it, and he is to be commended for that choice. There is enough blood to make an impact and keep the story moving, but not so much that most viewers will turn away. Likewise, the visual special effects are particularly good in Abattoir, used to further and enhance the story rather than to assault viewers with flashy spooks.
The film is further aided by good editing and good cinematography. The setting is appropriately atmospheric as the plot cranks up.
Abattoir is not going to scare a horror aficionado looking for a solid fright. (Co-star Anderson has said in an interview that he went through a phase of watching the most terrifying horror movies he could find after having grown somewhat numb to them, hoping for one that would really get him scared. Abattoir would not be such a film in that context.) It is not particularly groundbreaking, but nor should it be; it’s a (sort-of) ghost story that’s worth a watch, and is perhaps a nice introduction for viewers not used to less glossy horror movies put out by major studios.
An investigative reporter works to solve the mystery behind a mysterious man who has been buying houses where tragedies have occurred. Set in a world where it always feels like night, even in daylight hours, real estate reporter Julia Talben’s life is turned upside down when her family is brutally murdered. It is believed to be an open and close case, but Julia quickly realizes there is much more to this story when she returns to the crime scene to find the murder room deconstructed and physically removed from her sister’s home. This ignites an investigative pursuit that eventually leads her and ex-lover Detective Declan Grady to the town of New English where they find the enigmatic Jebediah Crone and the Abattoir – a monstrous house stitched together with unending rooms of death and the damned. Julia comes to realize that her sister’s soul is trapped inside, but the Abattoir isn’t just a house – it’s a door to something more evil than anyone could have ever imagined. Julia and Grady are ultimately faced with the question: How do you build a haunted house? One room at a time.
CAST: Jessica Lowndes, Joe Anderson, Lin Shaye, Dayton Callie
WRITTEN BY: Christopher Monfette
DIRECTED BY: Darren Lynn Bousman