Film Review: ABATTOIR (2016)

Film Review: ABATTOIR (2016)

Feb 2, 2017

IMDb: Abattoir (2016)
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Stars: Jessica Lowndes, Joe Anderson, Lin Shaye

Anyone who’s been reading my rantings and ravings for a while now, knows that I have a very soft spot for character actors, mainly because they can make the leads in any film look stunning, while not diminishing their own talents one iota. And the right actors cast in the right parts can take a film that you might not bother with otherwise, and make it not only watchable, but actually FUN. Darren Lynn Bousman’s ABBATOIR is definitely one of those kinds of films.

Bousman, the director of one of my favorite ‘contemporary’ horror musicals, REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, as well as a huge chunk of the SAW franchise, THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL…well, you get the picture. ABBATOIR is hardly his first time at the rodeo. In fact, Christopher Monfette’s screenplay is based on a graphic novel series co-created by Bousman.

And there is actually nothing wrong with the premise at all. Someone has been buying up properties where brutal murders, suicides and other horrific deeds have taken place, and then literally cutting the rooms where the deaths occurred out of each of the houses. This isn’t a spoiler, folks; all of this info is given away freely in the trailer.

JESSICA LOWNDES (THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY, THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL) plays Julia Talben, a reporter trapped in the quagmire of the ‘real estate section’ of the paper she works for. She wants more responsibility and a more fulfilling beat than the one she’s got. Careful, honey, because…oops, oh well. She gets what she wished for, but only because her sister, brother-in-law and nephew are all brutally murdered.

Now she’s on the case, and she runs into the stories about the properties with the rooms missing – with her sister’s own house added to that number. Obsessed with finding out who is behind the phenomenon, Julia’s not about to let anyone stand in her way; not her boss, Chester, (BRYAN BATT from JEFFREY and PARKLAND), and most definitely not her estranged cop boyfriend, Det. Declan Grady (JOE ANDERSON of THE RUINS, THE CRAZIES and HORNS).

The closer Julia gets, with and without Declan, the more she begins to realize that this isn’t just some quirky fluke…there is a method to the madness of these houses with their ‘murder rooms’ removed, and now to solve that mystery, as well as the reason behind the destruction of her sister’s family, she’s willing to go wherever this leads her.

And where it leads is to the two MVP’S of this movie, and I’m not joking about that one bit. Again, you might consider the information that follows to be a spoiler, but this is also in the trailer. So if you intend to watch the movie or the trailer at least, with no foreknowledge, you might want to stop here.

You know these movies that are desperate to try and start up a new horror franchise? The ones with the ads and the trailers that claim that “So-and-so will be THE ‘next great horror icon’, joining the ranks of Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers!”? Well, if a better vehicle can be found for him, “Jebediah Crone” SHOULD be the next one to get his own series, and he’s played to creepy perfection by seasoned character vet DAYTON CALLIE (THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, DEADWOOD, VOLCANO and more TV appearances than you can count on both hands and feet). He is the one behind the ‘remodels’, and at the heart of his efforts, building his own version of “HELL HOUSE” is only scratching the surface of his intentions. Callie doesn’t over-or-underplay the role…and as great as he is at making you feel like you want to take twelve baths after meeting him, Crone is a character you kind of miss when he’s not there, even though his presence seeps into every frame.

He struck a terrible bargain with the people of the town of “New English”, and the closer Julia gets to unlocking the secret of that deal made, the closer she is to answers about her sister’s death. In fact, when she actually goes to New English, that’s when she runs into the other actor, whose name alone is reason enough to watch this movie.

Yeah, I’m talking about LIN SHAYE. Listing her complete credits would take too long, plus chances are that if you’re reading this, you already know who she is. And if not, here’s the quick-and-dirty version: Appeared as the teacher in the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Has been in at least two Farrelly Brothers films that I know of, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and KINGPIN. Has also been in many, many indie films including JACK GOES HOME and DEAD END, plus she plays the beloved psychic Elise Rainier in the successful INSIDIOUS franchise. Here, she plays “Allie”, an eccentric old lady Julia locates in New English, who not only knows an awful lot about Jebediah Crone and the soul-sucking grasp he has on the entire town, but probably even more than she’s letting on.

Shaye specializes in portraying characters with spines of steel…even if all their elevators don’t run to the top floor, and Allie is no exception in her ‘rogue’s gallery’ of kindly figures who may or may not have the kindliest of intentions. Oh, she can play nice, too, but when you’re talking about a house of horrors even more formidable than Belasco House, or anything William Castle ever dreamed up, “nice” is one of those words best stricken from the vocabulary.

Whenever Shaye and Callie are on the screen (and too bad they only get one, all-too-brief scene together), the movie crackles with the kind of energy that makes you sit up and take notice. I joked with my other half that the movie I REALLY wanted to see was the one with Allie and Jebediah.

The rest of the time? Meh. Lowndes, as lovely as she is, just seems too insubstantial in her acting to carry the movie as much as she has to. And Anderson seems kind of ill-used here as her boyfriend, though I’ve seen him in other things before and really liked him. Both are good for a certain kind of film…but maybe just not this one. Because the lead roles weren’t filled very well, it seems, it made it that much more possible for Lin and Dayton to walk in, pick up the movie and just about walk away with it. And I don’t know if that’s a sign of ineffectual directorial decisions made on Bousman’s part, or if the poor guy just had to muddle through with the cast he had, (and I’ve a feeling it’s more the latter reason.)

The other part that ABBATOIR kind of fell down on was the practical and visual effects. I mean, the damn movie is called “ABBATOIR”, which literally means “slaughterhouse”, and most of the carnage takes place either off-screen, or in very fuzzy, indistinct visual set-pieces where you can just make out what’s happening, but BARELY. And don’t even get me started on how so much of the third act was green-screened to death. Because the choice was made to keep the violence at arm’s length, the horror that Julia, Declan and Allie is supposed to be seeing and feeling is muted, and therefore even more so for the audience.

As crazy as proposed remakes can make me at times, I would love to see Bousman or someone take a stab at another sequel or prequel of ABBATOIR; bring back Lin Shaye and Dayton Callie, but do it with a leading cast a couple of levels above this one. And no skimping on the practical effects!

ABBATOIR gets two-and-a-half out of five stars, with the beautiful performances of Shaye and Callie preventing it from getting an even lower rating.