Abruptio (2023) Review
Horror fans keep saying they want something different, something that isn’t just the same old tropes rebooted or recycled. Abruptio, the first feature from writer/director Evan Marlowe (World of Death, Whacksaw Ridge) is about as different as it gets.
Production began in May of 2015 with the recording of voice tracks by a cast that included several names fans will recognize. The real work began the next year and continued for five years as the cast of lifesized puppets were filmed providing the actions that would go with those vocal tracks. Yes, puppets and not obvious puppets like marionettes, but lifelike creations meant to look 80% realistic and 20% fabricated.
Les (James Marsters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dudes & Dragons) works in a cubicle farm and still lives at home with his mother (Carole Ruggier, The Reeker, Without Ward). And just to make things worse, his girlfriend has just dumped him. Not exactly living his best life, is he?
One morning he wakes up to find stitches in his neck. His buddy Danny (Jordan Peele, Nope, Get Out) tells him it’s a bomb. He has one as well, and whoever implanted it has been using it to force him to commit some pretty terrible deeds. Horrified, Les watches as Danny breaks down and the bomb detonates, blowing his friend’s head off.
Abruptio is a lot of things, but primarily it is a darkly comedic horror film,which has as much in common with Franz Kafka as it does Ray Chandler.It pays homage to the groundbreaking cinema of the 1970s while pushing the envelope in its own right. But mostly, it’s about creating something that has never before been seen.Evan Marlowe
While this might seem like 30 Minutes or Less with puppets it’s something way darker and way stranger. Never mind robbing a bank, the first task Les is instructed to complete involves deploying a poison gas canister at his workplace. And it gets worse from there until he’s cutting the heads off of babies. Granted they sprout tentacles when he attacks them but by that point, it’s hard to tell if it’s real or just his mind trying to justify what he’s doing.
Marlowe has constructed a trip down a rabbit hole filled with paranoia and plot devices that read like the conspiracy theories you see bots and idiots pushing on Twitter. Alternate realities, shady groups controlling society from behind the scenes, humans with barcodes, footage on television shows political assassinations and acts of terrorism. And of course, there are aliens, to create the meta situation of human-appearing creatures in a film where the performers are human-looking non-humans.
The characters Les encounters are a similarly odd bunch including Sal (Sid Haig, House of 1000 Corpses, Coffy) a terrible comedian working in a creepy club, Mr. Salk (Robert Englund, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dead and Buried) who has an overwhelming fear of germs, and Chelsea (Hana Mae Lee, The Babysitter, Habit) a young woman with whom he begins to develop a bond.
But can he trust her? Is any of it real, or does Police Chief Richter (Christopher McDonald, Thelma & Louise, Backtrace) still have him hooked up to The Confessional 8000?
Abruptio is a wild ride that frequently has you questioning just what is going on and how much of it is real and how much is illusion or madness. There are several moments that recall other films, aliens that look like the critters in Southbound or Toho’s Space Ameoba, as well as nods to Brazil and Phantasm and a tone taken from Black Mirror. The final reveal however may be a step too far for some viewers, I know I could have done without it.
Still, Abruptio is a brilliant feat of storytelling as well as creative filmmaking. It may not be to everyone’s tastes and the almost human puppets can be disturbing at times, even when the characters are acting somewhat normal. But it’s something that’s worth seeing if you get the chance.
Abruptio made its debut at the Santa Monica Film Festival and most recently played Cinejoy and will be shown at Brazil’s Fantaspoa Fantastic Film Festival. You can find information on the film on its website and updates on where it will be playing on its Facebook page. If you’re in the mood for more strangeness, FilmTagger can suggest some titles to start with.