Abattoir begins by setting up one of those fun mysteries that characters in horror movies really should know better than to investigate, but do anyway. A number of houses where grisly murders took place are all being sold to the same mysterious buyer, and the rooms in which the crimes occurred have been literally removed from their homes in entirety. Again, because this is a horror movie, OF COURSE the guy doing this is named “Jebediah Crone,” who becomes but the latest in a recent trend of movie bad guys who appear to be based on angry nerd collectors (like Krang in the latest Ninja Turtles sequel and Darth Vader uberfan Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens). Inevitably, of course, we want to see how they plan to display their collection, and unfortunately, director Darren Lynn Bousman really takes his sweet time getting to that point of payoff.
Bousman first put himself on the map with three Saw sequels, two of which were pretty great and the other of which felt like it was made strictly for the paycheck. After that, however, he became interested in roadshow-style musicals with shadow casts. Repo: The Genetic Opera and The Devil’s Carnival actually went town to town with cast members adding live performance elements—a bold move to emphasize the experience of seeing something in a theater. Yet musicals require somewhat different muscles than horror. Back to a more traditional type of horror storytelling (albeit one he plans to expand in different media), he has brought with him two rather broad and exaggerated protagonists, who’d feel right at home in a heightened reality of song and dance, but took me right out of identification here.
Abattoir is ostensibly set in the real, modern world, but its lead character is a reporter named Julia (Jessica Lowndes) who looks like she’s doing a goth take on Bettie Page and complains that her full-time job at a print outlet isn’t promoting her quickly enough. In pursuing the story, she teams up with a detective named Grady (Joe Anderson) whose film-noir stylings and arch manner of speaking would make a Humphrey Bogart impersonator look subtle. Eventually, their search draws them to the small town of “New English,” where Lin Shaye plays a crazy bed & breakfast owner who yells things like, “I have seen and done far worse things than you, but I have lived past giving a shit!” In the movie’s final half hour, we get to the point at last.
All of the above might work in the context of a more stylized or campy reality, yet we are constantly shown that this isn’t supposed to be one—not, at least, until the supernatural elements come into play. Abattoir‘s opening credits bill it as being based on a comic, but it isn’t quite that simple: the comic was created by Bousman as a prelude to the movie and, yes, expanded universe that he planned on a larger scale. Judging by the copy of issue #1 (of 6) that was given out at the screening, the comic was both gorier and more to-the-point, following different characters and introducing Crone a lot more quickly.
Bousman has said that the story was too big for one movie, and a sequel is already in the works. So far, I can’t quite see it—Abattoir could have eliminated most of its middle act rather than fall into the trap of every other movie nowadays that wants the story to instantly lead into a bigger franchise. It’s like we’ve forgotten that when George Lucas thought he was only going to get one chance at bat, he trimmed his Star Wars down to be a single, satisfyingly complete tale, and only grew the galaxy once he knew he could. (Imagine A New Hope ending shortly after Han and Luke get to the Death Star.)
All that said, Bousman’s industrial-goth visual style is still impeccable, and his ability to create atmosphere effective. If he could more clearly decide on a tone, this series and premise could pave the way for more interest. But taking cues from the comic, he should follow different main characters next time. These two are not working out.
Rating: Two and a half burritos out of five (the Taco Bell kinds of burritos that put, like, Tater Tots and Fritos together in a way that doesn’t quite make sense)
Images: Radical Studios/Versatile marketing
Luke Y. Thompson is weekend editor for Nerdist, a lifelong horror fan, member of the LA Film Critics Association and occasional sayer of silly things on Twitter.