Film Review: Abattoir

This supernatural mystery wrapped around a rethinking of haunted-house clichés loses steam as the formulaic plot overshadows the freshness of its premise.
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Ambitious journalist Julia Talben (Jessica Lowndes) is frustrated at work, where she's stuck on the real-estate beat (no one ever won a Pulitzer writing about mortgage rates and pet policies, especially not with an editor whose motto is "No color, just numbers")—but enjoys a close relationship with her sister, Amanda (Jackie Tuttle). So she's devastated when Amanda, her husband and their young son are brutally murdered by a family annihilator. Their killer (’80s hot-guy Michael Paré) is apprehended immediately, claiming enigmatically that he only did what he had to do.

Shocking though all this is, the real shocker comes when Julia discovers that less than a week after the killings, the murder site—her nephew Charlie's bedroom—is gone; the exterior walls still stand, but the floor, interior walls, door and window frames, et al. are all gone and the house has already been sold to an entity called Revelation Holdings. Not only is that creepy, since notorious murder sites are famous for being tough to move, but the real-estate reporter in Julia can't figure out how the sale somehow coasted through standard legal formalities in less time than it usually takes to install a birdbath in the front yard.

Detective Declan Grady (Joe Anderson), who caught the case and would very much like to catch Julia as well, agrees, and Julia quickly discovers that this isn't the first time such a thing has happened. Up until this point, Abattoir (a fancy word for slaughterhouse, in case you don't feel like looking it up) is firing on all cylinders: It's spooky, surprising and intriguing—it's hard not to want to know what the hell (because Hell is almost certainly involved) is going on.

Unfortunately, the more the narrative reveals, the less intriguing it becomes, even allowing for the fact that it's easier (not necessarily easy, but easier) to concoct a “WTF?” premise than it is to carry it through to a satisfying conclusion. Abattoir's horror pedigree is impeccable, alluding to everything from Pascal Laugier's Martyrs and Lucio Fulci's The Beyond to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. But in the end, the screenplay doesn't equal the sum of its parts and the film is unsatisfying.

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