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Jason Widgington [Celluloid 08.02.16] horror

Director Darren Lynn Bousman is known for thinking outside the box. After directing the first three Saw sequels, he directed a cult favorite rock opera about re-possessing body parts whose recipients have defaulted on payments (Repo! The Genetic Opera). Soon after that, he developed and toured his cinematic circus The Devil's Carnival, which included live performances at many screenings.

Bousman's latest offering, Abattoir, may not be as ambitious as those two, but it does seek to turn the standard haunted house theme on its head by asking the question, 'Can you build a haunted house?'

Jessica Lowndes (best known for the 90210 reboot/sequel TV series) plays Julia Talben, a newspaper real-estate reporter whose sister and her family are brutally murdered in their home. When she goes to visit the house one last time, she's surprised to find that it's already been sold and that the murder room has been physically removed from the property. Determined to find out what happened, she uses journalistic skills to investigate, only to find out that this has been happening for quite some time, and that the common thread is a buyer named Jebediah Crone (Dayton Callie of Sons of Anarchy) from her home town of New English. After many years away, Julia returns to New English with old flame and police detective Grady (Joe Anderson, Across The Universe) to get to the bottom of the mystery of the missing kill rooms. What awaits may just be her own personal hell.

Abattoir is an admittedly innovative take on haunted houses, and the cinematography by the very busy Michael Fimognari (fellow 2016 Fantasia Festival selections The Master Cleanse and Before I Awake) is nothing if not lush and beautiful. But Bousman's decision to have the characters of Julia and Grady dress and emote like they are in an old Sam Spade potboiler from the 1930s or 40s falls flat to the point of distraction. I can understand how the subject matter lends itself to a film noir aesthetic, but either go all in or don't do it at all.

Strong acting performances all around, especially from genre veteran Lin Shaye (Insidious, Ouija) as New English's resident paranoid recluse, aren't enough to save Abattoir from being anything more than a great concept that is stylishly presented but ultimately underwhelming.

Recommended Release: SAW (movie collection)

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