Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Whether you hate meat, or you never say no to a good steak, I think you’d agree abattoirs are not nice places. However, whilst there may be no bloody animal carcasses on hooks in Darren Lynn Bousman’s latest, what we see instead is arguably a great deal nastier. This isn’t about a house where death is made. Rather this is a house made of death. In this respect, along with being among the best haunted house movies in recent years, Abattoir is the ultimate example of its sub-genre.
Yet to call it a haunted house movie may be to misrepresent it. Sure, the intense opener complete with murders and newspapers scream horror, but it’s not until fairly late that it fully delves into the usual genre stuff. Instead the first two thirds are more like an atmospheric, dark mystery, written and shot through a noire filter. It harks back to a cinematic era where people talked tough, drank bourbon on the job and enjoyed their cases a little too much. This time the investigation starts when Julia (Lowndes), a journalist aching for a crime to solve, finds her sister massacred via a tense home invasion sequence. This bit is tense, using the darkness effectively along with ironically utilising childish iconography like a night lamp. Though whilst it’s accomplished craftsmanship, it’s so far by the numbers. However things get weird when, shortly after, she finds the home has been purchased by a mysterious rip-off merchant named Jebediah Crone (Callie). And he’s completely gutted the murder room, including all of the furniture and even its walls. Intriguingly this isn’t the first time he’s bought a place and done that, with the same man having bought house after house where bad things have happened, in order to steal the crime scene. This pattern takes Julia and love/ hate interest Grady (Anderson) to a middle of nowhere town, through a forest and into a mansion where the collection is kept: a structure where each room represents a different tragedy.
Though the setup is exciting, and novel, enough to keep viewers engaged, it’s when our characters go through the door that Abattoir comes into its own. Throughout the aesthetic follows a trajectory from neo-noir to a surreal, gothic steampunk. Whether it’s in his Saw sequels, or the campy horror musicals Repo and Devil’s Carnival, Bousman has always shown himself to be an accomplished visual artist. In this section he’s better and even more macabre than ever before. Saxophones squeak in the distance whilst left, right and centre eerie ghosts are doomed to die over and over again in endless loops. The cinematography becomes increasingly complex, smoky and frankly fucked up. Each shot is excellently constructed, having the same attention to detail as a panel in the comics it was based on. In response, Lowndes sells the fear whilst Anderson brilliantly channels Humphrey Boggart. Though the star of the show is Callie, who creates a supernatural villain easily in the same sub-Pinhead leagues as The Tall Man or Candyman. He speaks his every line with a malicious menace and makes his fairly archaic language sound fresh.
Unfortunately he’s got so many damn lines! At its worst Abattoir indulges in the kind of exposition-heavy tell vs. show dialogue style that repeatedly threatens to bog it down. In particular the second act could easily have 10 minutes shaved without anyone noticing. Yet it’s worth sticking with, as there’s really a lot to like. Plus, whilst I hate to see every original idea mined for sequels, the premise offers great franchise potential. Bousman has already announced plans for a prequel, and with the foundations of his horror house laid I have faith he can build well around it.
Abattoir is released on DVD and Digital Download on 19th September