Saturday, 11 March 2023

Abruptio (2023) - Horror Film Review

An irrational fear of mine has always been puppets that are designed to look like humans. This isn't some 'screaming out loud for the views' type fear, instead it is more an unsettling 'uncanny valley' type creepiness that bubbles away. It's for that reason that I've never been able to bring myself to watch Team America: World Police despite liking the team behind it. Abruptio is a special type of Hell for me then, as this inventive horror is one life sized puppet show from start to finish. Directed and written by Evan Marlowe (Blood Rush), this took eight years to create from start to finish, and features a surprising number of high profile actors providing voice work. On that last note, rather than repeating myself, just remember that all the actors mentioned going forward have all lent their voices only.

Les Hackel (James Marsters - Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series) is no one special. This thirty five year old has a dead end job, a nagging girlfriend, and still lives with his parents, and also happens to be a recently recovering alcoholic. One day, after having visited his best friend Danny (Jordan Peele - director of Get Out, Us), he wakes up to an alarming message telling him to check his neck. Doing so he discovers a fresh stitch, going back to Danny's apartment he gets told that Danny has received text messages from persons unknown saying if they don't do what they want then a bomb implanted in their necks will explode. This all turns out to be true and soon Les finds himself an unwilling criminal, forced to perform all sorts of dark deeds in order to preserve himself. These include teaming up with various other people in similar situations, such as bad comedian Sal (Sid Haig - The Devil's Rejects), and germaphobe Mr. Salk (Robert Englund - A Nightmare on Elm Street film series). With this hidden conspiracy even spreading to the ranks of the police force, anarchy and mayhem has spread onto the streets, with seemingly hundreds of people all being forced to kill or be killed.

First off, the unique look. From what I can tell, a lot of the puppetry here is life sized puppetry. I may be completely wrong, but it looks like real people are playing the parts, wearing a full head puppet, and with their arms also covered to look like puppet material. With these puppets existing in what seemed to be the real world there was a consistent creepy tone that was there even before anything untoward happens. It all looks great, the puppets have a slightly exaggerated look to them, so Sal for instance has a gigantic nose, while other characters have really huge eyes. Les himself is relatively normal looking (for a creepy puppet). The puppets blink, speak in time to the dialogue being said, and their creepy look is helped by the very human movements they make (due to being worn by humans)

This is a dark film that goes to some very dark places, think the video game Hotline Miami crossed with the unforgettable Black Mirror episode Shut Up and Dance. Les doesn't seem to struggle to begin his new life of murder, an early scene for instance has him in a home invasion, where he barely fights against his task to kill a mum, dad and young child. Later scenes has such delights as feeding naked female corpses into a giant fan, and a very dark scene where he is in a creche cutting the heads off of babies with garden shears! Maybe not as completely untasteful as it sounds as there is an alien invasion subplot that may or may not actually be occurring, so those babies have The Thing style tendrils coming out of their severed heads. Due to the late film reveal of what is happening, some of Les' more guiltless unsavoury moments can be explained away, especially when this is taking place against a backdrop where both the police are unconcerned about the crimes being committed, and there are bigger signs that society as a whole is imploding.
Counter balanced, and a way to give the film at least a little bit of light, is the school girl character of Chelsea (Hana Mae Lee - The Babsitter: Killer Queen) who Les shares an almost fatherly role in protecting against the increasing danger of the world on the brink of apocalypse.

Purely due to my dislike of puppets, Abruptio was an unpleasant watch from start to finish, even without factoring in the very dark moments that take place here. I find it amusing that I've been waiting for a film to genuinely creep me out for ages and it comes in the form of an irrational fear of mine. I had hoped the story would have a more meaningful resolution than it got, and I felt there could have been more made of the characters essentially being forced to act like puppets with the removal of most of their free will. Despite those small issues though, this was well worth watching though, not only for the lovely voice actors, but also for the inventive look, there are few films which look so visually unique. Abruptio premiered at the Santa Monica Film Festival, and is screen virtually at Cinejoy from March 1st to March 10th.


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