PLOT: When a young real estate reporter's family is sadistically slaughtered, her investigation leads to a harrowing revelation of the small town she lives in: a mysterious man in the area has been collecting ghosts for decades.
REVIEW: The last five years have been quite creatively unkind to one time wunderkind Darren Lynn Bousman, a man whose career flashed tremendous promise upon helming three sturdy legs of the now defunct SAW franchise (II, III and IV). His 2010 MOTHER'S DAY retelling reinforced said promise, yet since, movies like 11-11-11, THE BARRENS, THE DEVIL'S CARNIVAL and others have sort of tamped it down a bit. Unfortunately, Bousman's new feature ABATTOIR, scripted by first-time scribe Christopher Monfette, is no real rebounding effort, as the film takes a mildly inspired premise and executes it pretty poorly. We always say that, at its best, film is a show-me-not-tell-me medium, and by this criterion, ABATTOIR fails mightily for the entire first hour of its confusing, over-expositional run-time. While it does offer a dazzling if cartoonish whirlwind of visual immersion in the final third, by then it's simply too late to make a drastic difference, and what we're left with in the end is a silly, supercilious supernatural jumble.
Julia Talben (Jessica Lowndes) is a plucky upstart real estate reporter in the fictional town of New English. Wanting a chance to cover the local crime-beat, her wish is soon granted when her sister, nephew and brother-in-law are balefully butchered one night during a home invasion. Enlisting the help of former lover and homicide detective Declan Grady (Joe Anderson), Julia soon discover that the room of the house in which the slaughters of her family took place have been mysteriously removed altogether. How is that possible? And for what reason? Further snooping leads to another saddling expository scene with New English local Allie (the great Lin Shaye), in which Julia and Declan learn that a malefic man known as Jebediah Crone (Dayton Callie) has been presiding over what he's deemed the Abattoir - a THIRTEEN GHOSTS-like collection of rooms where all the murder-scenes in town took place over the years. It's essentially a giant supernatural charnel house mounted deep in the woods, occupied by the tortured and eternally damned souls of the victims who died there.
Trying to explicate the plot further, as the movie itself struggles to do, would be a chore of a disservice. Hell, when the production company (Momentum Pictures) can't even succinctly summarize the film in less than a 11-line paragraph, you know there's a problem. Suffice it to say, the movie cannot overcome its own confounding opacity in a way that either makes much sense or offers convincingly visceral thrills. The dialogue drips with expository gibberish, tediously so, all of which is meant to climactically lead us to the titular slaughterhouse. It's here where the movie ditches the nubilous dialogue for a more intense and immersive visual display, but again, it's too little too late. There's a drab starkness to the traditional film noir aesthetic, being a detective story, that shrouds the entire film in a shadowy light all the way through to the end. A barrage of cartoonish CG ghosts soon manifest, mired in murk, Bousman seemingly at his most comfortable with an array of 360 degree camerawork and dizzying panoramas that see Julia and Declan darting for their lives. Most baffling yet is the reveal of Lin Shaye's character in the end, one that neither works as a well conceived third-act shock, nor as a puzzle-piece that credibly fits together with all we've seen come before it.
A let down really, for somewhere buried under the skeletons of ABATTOIR lies a kernel of a good idea. The notion of a deranged madman intent on ridding the sins of a small-town community by physically excising the murder-scenes and collecting them deep in the woods is a rather original one. But if you have to explain away the originality of the conceit ad nauseam, failing to cogently do so half the time, perhaps it wasn't a terribly well thought-out premise to begin with. This, along with a rapid editing style that seems more suited for a movie trailer than a full length feature (at least early on), seem to be the irreversible downturns of ABATTOIR's direction. It's simply too hard to follow to be genuinely compelling. Flashbacks, flash-forwards, visual melding of multiple timelines at once, they all compute to a strange and silly storytelling muddle that just isn't very scary. In terms of the acting, the performances are passable enough, nothing more, save for the always up-to-task Lin Shaye in her only two scenes. But not even a horror hall of famer could will this one to a cinematic win.
To put a cork in it, ABATTOIR falls well short of credibly executing its mildly promising premise. The story wades too deep and too long in a bog of expositional back-story, raising far more obliquely muddied questions than dolling out truly satisfying answers. It simply cannot realize its own potential. Even when the movie finally favors the visual over the verbal, the story fails to make a whole lot of sense. It makes one wonder why Darren Lynn Bousman, whose six-issue graphic novel series of the same name this movie was based on, allowed a neophyte scribe to adapt the screenplay. More curious yet is where Bousman goes from here, now fully entrenched in a four or five film output of suboptimal horror. Will he continue to orchestrate campy horror musicals? Continue to write graphic novels? Will he migrate to television (a la his TV movie ANGELUS) or serve in a more producorial capacity? All worthy queries, no doubt. More certain though, ABATTOIR lies well beneath the talent Bousman boasted a decade ago.