Abattoir poses such a savage, provocative haunted house concept, but much like Brad Peyton’s Incarnate, this re-modeled genre construct is wasted on plodding execution that squanders any inherent excitement. Darren Lynn Bousman erects his very own funhouse amusement out of bloody murder locations, building a true-to-form haunted house without the haunts. Dead souls inhabit the very rooms they were slain in, all so an old, vengeful creep can make peace with his own family’s passing. It’s an architect’s dream hobby mixed with Satan’s own interior decorating, yet we’re never granted access to the horrors that pulsate from room to room. Tonal airlessness, momentum-halting CGI, disconnected storytelling – these are just a few of the code violations that stack against 2016’s most daunting renovation nightmare.
New English resident Jebediah Crone (Dayton Callie) acts as Bousman’s head designer, a cult leader who strengthens his connection to Hell with each new roomstone (tombstone + room) addition. His followers sacrifice in the name of absolution, as they flip houses for no profit after gutting crime scenes like a wooden organ. Furniture and all.
Their latest find belongs to the sister of Julia Talben (Jessica Lowndes), who was murdered along with her son Charlie late one night. Julia is distraught, but follows a string of clues that lead to Crone’s backwoods beehive for ghosts. She’s given a choice: either enter and abandon all hope or turn back around, which of course leads to Julia finding herself in the middle of a non-stop loop of murders. She presses on, searching for answers, but not even her policeman ex-lover (Declan Grady, played by Joe Anderson) can prevent the torment that awaits.
Yet, Bousman’s focus isn’t solely on a puzzle-fitted haunted house. There’s a good 45+ minutes of retro-noir filmmaking that sees Joe Anderson chewing scenes with old-timey exasperation, as Lowndes lazily stitches together her laundry list of clues. She’s an investigative reporter at heart, so it’s not too much of a stretch that she ends up in a bumblefuck town with apparent blood ties (uncovering family connections after digging around) – albeit quite a droll inquiry. We sit patiently, with the promise of some Frankensteined mansion made from God’s darkest disciples, only to first sleepwalk through a mundane melodrama despite an initial murder opening and the introduction of Lin Shaye’s character (an old lunatic who lures Julia in).
Then, when we do reach Crone’s literal house of horrors, plotting goes suspiciously silent. Crone welcomes Julia inside, where misty apparitions of each room’s victim(s) are showcased like Faces Of Death in real life – except it’s never defined if/how they can interact? Julia moves out of the way like the beings might hurt her, yet none seem bothered by her presence. Most times they’re just background noise, but then when one gets crushed in an elevator shaft (yup, even elevators and staircases are haunted), actual blood drips through an open grate.
So are they ghosts or humanized bodies? Crone never expounds upon myth, as he just keeps waxing on about his want to unlock a gate to Hell or connect spirit worlds with our world (does it matter?), somehow saving his unresting family (the souls of those taken unexpectedly are tied to the rooms they die in, yadda yadda). Blueprints are laid, but so many corners feel cut in Bousman’s rushed tour through Crone’s home away from Hell – a thought that first occurred when gazing upon the digital landscape of the massive mansion’s pixelated front.
Anderson’s performance belongs in another era, and not in a good way. Bousman calls upon slick private eye stories from black-and-white times, but never evokes classical machismo. Characters like Declan run towards finality with open arms, spitting out some “Here’s lookin’ at you kid” dialogue that soon transitions to more feral, primitive horror once New English soil is reached. Then these hillbilly bumpkin types come out of the woodwork, rambling on about how Crone has a stranglehold over the town like a completely different movie. One minute we’re stuck inside the hustling, bustling Metro Daily (creative newspaper name), the next we’re watching Lin Shaye bounce about like an eccentric plot device with a brain smaller than a gator’s. It’s messy, and not clean-blood-off-the-floor messy – just plain old wake-me-up-when-thing-make-sense messy.
Lowndes is the film’s only constant, but too much scripting feels like uncharacteristic B-roll. There’s a scene where Lowndes’ Julia gives her nephew a present – a skateboard (kids like skateboards!) followed by a joke about being safe. Another shows Julia frantically connecting clues covering a large portion of her wall. Sound like something you’ve seen before?
Scene by scene, interest is lost as Bousman’s production suffers from a major lack of damnation, caught in some criminal caper that’s immediately forgotten once Crone allows us inside his slaughterhouse. Before that moment, we’re subjected to choppy editing, soulless cinematography and performances that span too many years and subgenres, yet even afterwards, an eviction notice still seem like salvation.
There have been plenty of solid house-based horror movies in past years. House Of 1,000 Corpses. House On Haunted Hill (original AND remake). House Of Wax (not the remake). Hell, even something animated like Monster House. So how does Abattoir go so (un)horrifyingly wrong? By missing the spectacle aspect of haunted houses. Refurbished ideas masquerade as fresh innovations, but then Julia reaches her destination and rushes through everything audiences have been waiting for. Patience is typically a virtue, but all it buys you here is a shocking lack of genre definition from a concept worth its weight in black market organs.
Abattoir feels like it should still have an "Under Construction" sign warning viewers of the unfinished business to come.