Based on a series of graphic novels, Abattoir follows reporter Julia who, after the horrific murder of her sister and nephew, is drawn into a grisly mystery involving the removal of rooms in which people have died violently. Led by whispered legends of an old man who has bought up locations where tragedy has previously struck, Julia teams up with cop Grady to investigate the truth behind these twisted rumours, and in the process, both will face an evil that goes beyond the realms of reality.

Director Darryl Lynn Bousmann set out to create a very particular vision for the film, one that would boldly bring together two of the most distinctively stylised genres in film history: Horror and Film Noir. In bringing such inherently dark and visually iconic genres together, the supernatural tones mesh superbly with the noir stylisation to create an impressive symbiosis, marked by an atmosphere of cloying dread and mystery, giving the world a distinctive sense of identity that, at the pinnacle of its effectiveness, is reminiscent of visually stark RKO horrors of the 1940’s such as Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie, particularly once Julia and Grady venture to New English and the sense of paranoia becomes reflected in the dilapidated locals and the sickly, smoky textures that pervade the very blackest corners of the mise-en-scene. The establishment of the world through this acute stylisation is perhaps the most potent quality of the film, as the mystery builds and the more traditional horror elements creep into the film, the bleeding of horror and noir leads to a baroque and audacious showcase that is undeniably a treat for genre fans at its best.

The ambition of the concept unfortunately leads the film to almost fold upon itself, as the boldness of such supernatural spectacle at time feels too expansive in relation to the contained nature of the noir frame. Indeed, as tremendously affective the blending of supernatural and noir can be within the film, the inherent artifice of the noir tone also serves to occasionally remove the viewer from the immediacy of the horror, and push the already excessive nature of the narrative into a point of almost cartoonish abstraction. As a result, this wildly varying balance does cause the film to lose its identity somewhere within the shifting shades of its morbid palette.

The performances of the cast vary overall, particularly representative in the jarring divide between the quality of the supporting performers and the central duo that drive the film forward. The clear star of the show is Dayton Callie, whom is utterly magnificent as the villainous Jebediah Crone, clearly revelling in the chance to exert his personality upon the film through contrast of his restrained figure with the slickly sinister power of his voice, his verbose expressions almost seductive in their Machiavellian corruption; while the ever dependable Lin Shaye holds the screen with a skittish energy that is both disarming and quietly threatening in her small but crucial role. Unfortunately, the two lead performers don’t display the same quality: Jessica Lowndes just isn’t able to convincingly convey Julia as a tough and tenacious centre to the film, instead coming across as aggravating and downright irritating; while Joe Anderson’s performance as Grady feels distractingly like his attempt to deliver his own interpretation of what Brad Pitt’s detective character in Se7en might have been like…if played by Kevin Bacon. The effect, suffice to say, is both baffling and gloriously ludicrous. However, the blame doesn’t really rest at the feet of the actors but rather the misguided commitment to crafting them within the mould of film noir architypes. In doing so, the actors have to confine themselves to the rigid confines of context, resulting in both Julia and Grady feeling more like convenient caricatures than actual relatable characters you can care about. Their fate is sealed from their first introductions, as Julia spouts rapid fire retorts faster than you can say His Girl Friday, while Grady plays it cool with a fedora, toothpick and suggestive language straight out of Humphrey Bogart 101. It feels incredibly forced and extremely unnecessary when the film is so focused on the suggestion of that tone in more impactful expressions (composition, lighting, score etc.), almost becoming painfully silly in the process.

While imbalances perhaps leave Abattoir a frustratingly disjointed affair, the film stands as a twisted supernatural style piece, that at it best, dazzles with a fiendish playfulness that will have audiences gleefully entering its labyrinth.

Horror Channel Frightfest review: Abattoir
3.5Overall Score
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk