Dir. Darren Lynn Bousman. USA-Fr, 2016. 99mins
This noirish ghost story/mystery from director Darren Lynn Bousman has a terrific central idea, but spends too much time getting to it. This is one case where a Part 2, relieved of the pressure to explain backstory, might have a chance to build a classic franchise. Bousman has already worked on a related comic book project and may have multi-media ambitions for the property, which introduces a setting that would be perfectly suited to an interactive spooky computer game.
Abattoir gets past its clunky storytelling with a great look and some well-staged shocks and scares.
The hook comes when Julia (Jessica Lowndes), a journalist who specialises in stories about real estate but would like to be transferred to the crime beat, receives a phone call from a stranger who confesses he’s just killed Julia’s sister. A few days after the crime, Julia discovers her sister’s home has been bought, and the room in which the murder took place removed from the property and subsequent investigation reveals that this has happened to many crime scene homes over several decades. The trail leads to New English, the small town where mysterious anti-religious preacher Jebediah Crone (Dayton Callie) has been putting together a jigsaw-piece mansion of murder rooms.
Arriving in New English with her too-convenient cop ex-boyfriend Grady (Joe Anderson), Julia finds no-one wants to answer her questions - though when talking starts, it rambles on somewhat - and the usual paradoxical range of folks who either want to force her to leave town before sunset or sabotage her car so she has to stay. New English is populated by skewed eccentrics, like the bulky Sheriff (John McConnell) and bipolar landlady Allie (Lin Shaye), who know more than they’re telling about the so-called abattoir house and Julia’s slightly unresonant backstory.
It’s odd that Abattoir comes up with as potent a location as the patchwork-of-murder-scenes haunted house but then delays getting inside for so long, but the last reel manages a nice escalation of the eerie and the shocking as the intruders are assailed by enough murdered ghosts to populate an entire season of American Horror Story.
Bousman cut his teeth on Saw sequels before venturing away from the franchise with such oddities as Repo! The Genetic Opera, the 2010 Mother’s Dayremake and 11-11-11 (which also featured characters named Crone). Like the original Saw’s James Wan, he’s got a distinctive style and set of interests (and an understandable fondness for casting character actor Lin Shaye in showy roles), although he’s not yet had the Insidious or Conjuring-scale hit which would make him a franchise founder rather than follower. In his hands, though, Abattoir gets past its clunky storytelling with a great look - dark, shadowed, with a 1940s hardboiled feel - along with some well-staged shocks and scares.
Production Companies: Dark Web Productions, Les Enfants Terribles, Luminary Entertainment, Pacific Bridge Pictures
Distributor: Universal Pictures International Entertainment
Producers: Jesse Berger, Brent C Johnson
Executive Producers: Yohan Baiada, Robert D. Cain, Yoel Dahan, Kevin Niu, Steve Ponce
Screenwriters: Christopher Monfette
Cinematography: Michael Fimognari
Music: Michael Sayfritz
Production Designer: Jennifer Spence
Main cast: Jessica Lowndes, Joe Anderson, Lin Shaye, Michael Pare, Bryan Batt, Dayton Callie, Aiden Flowers, Charles Barber