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Review: ABSTRUSE (2019)

Harley Wallen’s film Abstruse, formerly Into A Dark Mind, has been on the festival circuit for the last couple of years and has racked up quite the list of awards. Of course, as we all know, festival awards don’t always mean much when it comes to actual entertainment value. Having liked Wallen’s previous film Eternal Code but being less impressed with Betrayed, I was curious to see how this one played out.

Justin (Kris Reilly) and Daniel (Dennis Marin, Apocalypse Rising) are a pair of scumbags who get off on doing loads of coke, abusing call girls and just generally being assholes. The fact that Justin’s father Senator Stevens (Dennis Haskins) is a very influential figure helps keep them out of trouble. Deciding that they need a job, they decide to enter the porn business. They convince a couple of barmaids Mindy (Jessika Johnson) and Amanda (Kaiti Wallen) to be their first stars. However, things go sideways when the filming takes an unexpected turn into snuff territory and Mindy ends up dead.

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Amanda escapes and goes to the police, but by the time they investigate, all traces of the crime are gone. The cops even begin investigating her. The fact that Detective Caldwell (Harley Wallen) is on the senator’s payroll has nothing to do with that, I’m sure. With the cops harassing her and Justin finding he enjoys killing, there’s only one person she can trust.

Of course, that person is her father Max (Tom Sizemore, The Runners, The Litch). He’s an ex-con, a violent offender as the cops keep reminding us, and just out of jail. And he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, or bloody, to save his little girl.

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Abstruse is an enjoyable thriller with a plot that’s fairly twisty as well as twisted. There’s enough going on that it’s hard to guess which way the story is going to go. This is especially true once Justin goes totally mad and killing anyone he perceives as a threat. It gives the film a nobody is safe vibe.

That plays well with the film’s overall feel. Despite artwork that suggests an action film, Abstruse is much more of a thriller in the tradition of the film noir of the 1940s. It’s a world where nobody is truly good or innocent. The villains are violent and unhinged. The cops and politicians are corrupt. The closest thing to a hero is a violent criminal protecting his daughter. And even if she isn’t the gold digger or femme fatale of the original noirs, she’s no angel. She’s quite willing to go to a porn shoot and make out with a dude she’s called a psycho because he and his buddy are loaded.

On the minus side, at a hair under two hours, Abstruse is too long by at least fifteen minutes. Much of this could be trimmed from the start of the film, which takes entirely too long to get down to business. Most of the background info could have been delivered in a more streamlined way.

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Also, for a film with such sordid subject matter, Abstruse plays it fairly tame The porn shoot never gets beyond G rated pinup poses and none of the killings are overly bloody. I know it’s a matter of personal taste, but I can’t see making a film involving porn, spree killing, etc. and then sanitize it. A plot like this should leave you feeling a bit dirty afterwards.

But if you’re looking for a solid thriller with an ending you won’t see coming, Abstruse is certainly worth your time. Sizemore gives one of his better recent performances, and Kris Reilly is a convincingly slimy villain.

Abstruse is available to stream via Green Apple Entertainment.

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