Saw franchise alum Darren Lynn Bousman returns with Abattoir, in which two newspaper reporters investigate a man who appears to be constructing a house made from rooms physically pulled from historical murder scenes. Billed by the director as what would have happened “if Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart had made a horror movie”, the film’s noirish elements aren’t convincing enough in execution here, and as a result its admittedly original central conceit is left to flounder a little too much for Abattoir to make much of an impact.
A film remaining deliberately ambiguous about setting and era can be effective. It Follows, for instance, was set in a world where seasons change by the day, and classic cars, state of the art electronics and generation-spanning wardrobes coexist uneasily. The fact that, on the surface, nothing about the universe and its construction makes sense actually works in its favour – it’s a film rooted in nightmare logic, and this kind of disorientation fits nicely with that. Abattoir can’t use that inbalance to its advantage.
Front two Grady (Joe Anderson) and Julia (Jessica Lowndes) both feel like products of another time: the kind of reporter who may be known to greet a breaking story with a cry of “what a scoop!” and a hasty scurry to a phonebox. While there’s fun to be had with this in the film’s early stages, the characters and world around them feel inconsistent with that in a way that feels like underdevelopment rather than an artistic choice. The fact that their anachronistic dialogue often feels a little inauthentic makes matters worse, and it becomes impossible to really invest in Abattoir as its opposing elements seem to drift further and further from each other.
There’s a shot in the film’s final third, as Julia closes in on a showdown with the villain, that has the potential to be genuinely stirring. The discovery of the house itself should be an impressive, resonant moment. The trouble is, so much of the film’s flagging momentum is squandered during a painfully bland second act – set mostly in the house of steely recluse Allie, played with reliable gusto here by Insidious‘ Lin Shaye – that the impact feels neutered: a crowd-pleasing moment floating in purgatory, with nothing of substance to shackle itself to. Ultimately, for all its admirably broad ambition, Abattoir‘s reach exceeds its grasp.