Home is where the Abattoir is, in Darren Lynn Bousman’s film noir chiller. Swapping torture porn frolics – he helmed several sequels in the Saw franchise – for a more subdued approach, his latest work, arguably his strongest yet, is pitched as a ghost story with a nightmare twist. Based on an unpublished graphic novel serving as a prequel to events in the film (making its literally origins a bit of a cheat, because nobody’s read it) Abattoir’s visceral title is symbolic and reflected upon in a line of dialogue uttered by the film’s Big Bad, Jebediah Crone (Dayton Callie), a creepy southern preacher recalling Julian Beck’s insidious final role in Poltergeist II.
It isn’t a film packed with blood and entrails painting the walls and hanging from the rafters in an orgiastic explosion of violence. Indebted to Alan Parker’s Angel Heart, the eldritch writings of H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker’s macabre tales – without ever directly cribbing or making overt references – the pace is very cleverly subdued, to the point of somnambulism. However, everything clicks by the finale, where Crone’s maniacal scheming is revealed to form a bigger picture and Abattoir springs to vivid life, noting that just as a person can never out-run a bullet, neither can they renege on a promise made to a demon.
Julia (Jessica Lowndes) is a local news reporter specialising in real estate. Desperate to work the crime beat and looking for a big scoop, boy does she get one. After her sister, brother-in-law and nephew are murdered in their own home by a psycho (Michael Paré), Julia sets out to investigate the killer’s background. When she discovers the sister’s home has been purchased way too quickly for it to be legit, and the crime scene literally removed from the property, the reporter finds out a mystery buyer has been collecting murder scenes down the years. Helped by an ex-lover and cop, Grady (Joe Anderson), doing his best impersonation of Humphrey Bogart, they set off like an unknowing Hansel and Gretel into the deep dark woods.
Bousman might not quite pull off the ‘Howard Hawks meets The Wicker Man‘ vibe he’s going for, but Abattoir is horror for grown-ups. It demands you submit your complete attention and stay with it until the very end. For those wanting instantaneous thrills and scares, it might well be too much to ask. But all mysteries are about the final revelation, the kind that upend all that has come before them. Abattoir doesn’t have a jaw-dropping ‘Verbal Kint is Keyser Soyer!’ shock scene, but the ending does pack an emotional punch, of a type so few and far between in the annals of horror cinema.
FrightFest 2016 runs from 25-29 August at Vue Shepherd’s Bush. For info and tickets: frightfest.co.uk
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn