Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Horror Violence, and Language throughout
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by: Christopher Monfette
Starring: Dayton Callie, Jessica Lowndes, Joe Anderson, Lin Shaye & Jay Huguley
Darren Lynn Bousman has crafted an interesting career in horror filmmaking. He helmed three of the SAW films (including the best film in the entire series), directed a disappointing Jersey Devil movie, and has had a hand in three horror musicals so far. Though the quality of his filmography ranges all over the map, Bousman isn’t afraid to try new things and there’s something to be said for that. ABATTOIR is Bousman’s attempt to do a haunted house story and, in a weird twist of fate, he combines this genre with a pulpy noir execution. This film is far from perfect, but it’s an interesting creation that seems tailor-made for Halloween viewing.
Julia Talben (Jessica Lowndes) is a real-estate reporter who wants to cover the story of a lifetime. When her sister is brutally murdered and the scene of the crime is removed by a mysterious home owner, Julia finds herself in a wild news story beyond her imagination. Aided by her detective best friend Declan Grady (Joe Anderson), the pair’s search for answers leads them to the creepy small town of New English. Ooky spooky old man Jebediah Crone (Dayton Callie) seems to be collecting murder rooms to construct the ultimate haunted house. Julia and Declan soon find themselves in a nightmarish web of mystery, buried secrets, and ghastly ghosts.
Though it may have strong influences of other ghost movies (the underrated remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and the not-so underrated THIR13EN GHOSTS remake), ABATTOIR sticks out as its own entity in the haunted house subgenre. Most of the reasons for this come from Christopher Monfette’s screenplay taking a purposely quirky noir approach to the material. There are lines of dialogue that sound like they belong in 40s/50s pulpy crime thrillers, yet they inspire chuckles and make this film entertaining the whole way through. It’s clear that Julia Talben and Declan Grady are colorful characters and the way that the performers deliver these lines comes off as believable enough.
This isn’t to say that Jessica Lowndes and Joe Anderson (who you might recognize from THE RUINS, THE CRAZIES remake, and HORNS) deliver flawless acting. Lowndes character seems a bit too eager to make stupid decisions, while Joe Anderson comes off like too much of an asshole at certain points of the story. Clearly, Bousman was trying to build a love connection between these two characters, but their would-be romantic relationship seems forced. I believed these two were friends, but I could not by them “loving” each other.
On the supporting side of things, Lin Shaye is clearly having a blast as yet another weird horror character. This time she’s playing the New English town “witch,” though I’d say that she’s just playing her typecast self yet again. Dayton Callie is a mixed bag as the villainous Jebediah Crone. The film takes a while to give us a face-to-face between his baddie and the two protagonists. When we do get to see Callie’s Crone in his glory, he’s a scenery-chewing blast to behold. Though I never found him threatening, Callie’s presence is colorful and adds a memorable figure to the haunted house proceedings.
As I mentioned before, ABATTOIR reminds me of 1999’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and THIR13EN GHOSTS. This mainly comes in the film’s stylishly spooky atmosphere and the look of the ghostly inhabitants. ABATTOIR was clearly an ambitious project from the get-go and had enough creativity behind it to warrant a comic book prequel (and a supposedly upcoming sequel titled DWELLING). However, this film’s reach occasionally exceeds its budgetary grasp. The ghosts look a little too cheesy at points and one more rendering through the special effects department couldn’t have hurt the production. That being said, I loved certain scenes and the look of the haunted house itself was awesome.
ABATTOIR’s final third unveils the main attraction: a massive haunted house that’s constructed from countless tragedies. However, we only get to see a few select rooms and this was most likely due to more financial constraints. As a result, scenes of characters wandering through this insane environment aren’t nearly as cool as they should be. I was able to predict a plot twist well in advance before it occurred as well, though that may have been intentional on Bousman’s part. ABATTOIR is an atmospheric combination of over-the-top horror and pulpy mystery noir. The film suffers from shaky (but fun to watch) acting and budgetary constraints that ultimately hurt the plot’s ambition. I’d love to see a remake of this film with millions of dollars behind it, but ABATTOIR is a fun little diversion while it lasts.