"This feels like an episode of Mystery Theater and will charm fans of old radio horror."

Known for his contributions to the Saw series, director Darren Lynn Bousman has a secondary career in graphic novels. In 2011, he created the first of the Abattoir series, about a real estate agent who uncovers a mystery relating to the sale of houses where murders have taken place. This film is his attempt to transfer the books to the big screen.

With the aid of art director Christina Eunji Kim, set designer Ruston Head and cinematographer Michael Fimognari, Bousman has done a good job of recreating the look of the books. The story and characters have changed a bit. Instead of opening with all out blood and gore, we are now presented with murders that take place offscreen, but that have more narrative power because they personally affect the lead character. The grim-faced hero of the originals has been replaced by glamorous young reporter Julia (Jessica Lowndes), who looks like she's wandered off the set of a Forties potboiler, as does love interest Grady (Joe Anderson). She carries it perfectly; he can wear the clothes but is a little too fresh faced to convince as the cynical detective type, reminding one somewhat of the kids dressed up as sleuths in Super 8. The degree to which both are out of place in their environment seems bizarre at first but is later integrated into the story in an interesting way. Julia's personal suffering makes sense of her drive in pursuing the central mystery and enables the development of a Greek tragedy that links the fragments of the different books together.

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Importantly, Bousman manages to make the film work for viewers who are new to the story, as most are likely to be, whilst writer Christopher Monfette effectively condenses the wider plot. Involving a remote community with a dark secret and something nasty going on in the woods, this feels like an episode of Mystery Theater and will charm fans of old radio horror. Dayton Callie works effectively as sinister old-timer Jebediah Crone but the highlight is Lin Shaye, who shows there's life beyond Insidious with a creepily fragile performance that's far more nerve-jangling than any of the later histrionics.

Though Bousman's world is well drawn, it doesn't always bear weight, and too many scenes rely on the atmosphere holding the viewer by itself. Dramatic tension builds up well in places only to be squandered as the script shifts focus, and there's too much focus on underdeveloped theological arguments at the expense of character development, with the writers making that classic Silence Of The Lambs mistake and confusing vocabulary with intelligence. It has plenty of material to work with, with its creepy cult, its out-of-time setting and its central premise, without trying to tack on extras all the time; it is at its best when keeping things simple.

The gore and the glory that laced Bousman's books from the outset are here reserved for the final act when - inevitably - we encounter what has been created as a result of all those mysterious purchases. This results in something of a surfeit of ghostly horrors, reducing the impact of each one. Lowndes has to work hard to keep us believing, which is difficult given the other pressures her character faces. She's aided by some handsome design work, and fans of the books will also enjoy the many references hidden in these scenes.

Abattoir doesn't always achieve its goals but it has some strong ideas and builds well on its core theme. Superficial resemblances to Thirteen Ghosts aside, it's unusual in a way that will give it big screen appeal, even if it might seem more at home as a spooky TV mini series.

Reviewed on: 28 Aug 2016
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After the death of her sister and nephew, real-estate investigative reporter Julia uncovers the sinister truth behind a series of gruesome murders where the entire killing rooms have been dismantled and pulled from their foundations.
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Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Writer: Christopher Monfette

Starring: Joe Anderson, Jessica Lowndes, Michael Paré, Lin Shaye, Bryan Batt

Year: 2016

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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