[Movie Review] ABRUPTIO

[Movie Review] ABRUPTIO

I’ve always been a fan of puppeteering, in all of its forms. Like the animation medium, as a whole, it turns the impossible into reality. Mostly you see it used in all ages entertainment like with The Muppets, but sometimes something comes along that pushes the medium and you wonder if you’ve ever seen puppetry like this? ABRUPTIO is that type of movie. It’s a 90-minute wild ride filled with puppets that are both frightening to look at and emotional in their own way.

Portrayed by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” alum James Marsters, Les is a man who’s living at home, has a dead-end job, and his girlfriend just broke up with him. He’s at his lowest when he discovers a scar on his neck, which just so happens to be from a bomb implant. His only way to stay alive is to complete the tasks he is given and each seems more insane and cruel than the last, from gassing his co-workers to death to just full-on baby murder.

This film began production back in 2015 and actually boasts an incredible cast of characters from the late Sid Haig (House of 1000 Corpses) to Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street). The performances from these voices really bring these human-ish-looking puppets to life. Danny, portrayed by a pre-horror film auteur Jordan Peele, is a stand out that mixes Peele’s previous Key and Peele sketch stylings with the horror on screen. Christopher McDonald (“The Watcher”) as the Police Chief Richter also brought a menace with it that made me side with our hero Les despite all of the awful things he does. I mean, at one point I watched him hack a guy’s head off with a shovel.

What most people will remember from this horror thriller are the puppets themselves. Made to look vaguely human, some with sets of teeth, some with blinking eyes, but all of which are absolutely devastating to look at. They all have that uncanny valley vibe to them where if I squinted I could believe they were real people. In fact, there were several scenes where I wondered what parts were puppets and what parts weren’t. It’s an incredible feat to bring these walking, talking “humans” to life and I have to give it to the puppeteers that made me believe what I saw on screen even though they were horrific looking.

ABRUPTIO l Hell Bent Pictures

The obvious reason to use puppets rather than the incredible cast themselves (beyond probably getting everyone on set at once) is because what plays out on screen is so horrific that the puppets take away from the violence a bit. This is a movie that doesn’t cut away when you’d expect them to and the puppets are probably a big part of why I was okay with them not doing so. However, I struggled for the majority of the runtime to suspend my disbelief. I also couldn’t get over how these puppets looked. Honestly, I had to rewind a few times during my at-home viewing because I became focused on the fact that these were puppets, and I lost out on some key plot points.

The more technical aspects of the film are fine. Nothing stands out, but that’s always a good thing since nothing is so poorly done that it ruins the film. That said, nothing about the sound, camera work, or production design feels so extraordinary that I need to point something out to celebrate. It’s a decent-looking film with good sound design and score, and all of the sets are believable, probably more so than the puppets.

Coming in at around the 90-minute mark is perfect for a film like this and it doesn’t waste much time getting into the thick of things. The pacing from the editing and directing is fantastic. The film’s writer/director Evan Marlowe does a fabulous job of taking an interesting concept and putting it on film. He’s created an energetic movie out of characters who can barely open their mouths or blink their eyes, well, some of them can. The dialogue he’s written is great too. I really felt bad for Les despite the fact that I don’t really like him as a person. He’s also frightened me with how creepy and realistic some of his characters are with what they say to each other.

ABRUPTIO is a film that will be divisive and I think it comes down to just how you feel about the puppets being used. Its greatest strength is that it’s a unique film with puppets, but for many, I think its biggest weakness will be how horrifying the puppets look and how inexpressive they can be. Maybe that’s the point. To show the horror of those who don’t express emotions while being able to do awful things to other humans. It’s a wild ride, one that you’ll either want to ride again or one that will leave you wondering why you decided to get on in the first place.

ABRUPTIO had its premiere at the Santa Monica International Film Festival on January 17, 2023. To learn more about when and where you’ll be able to see it, visit Abruptio.com.

Josh Taylor
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