With horror movies, both tentpole and low-budget, making the headlines these days, an element must make it special to stand out from the pack. Writer/ director Evan Marlow opted for telling his darkly comedic, noir/science fiction/ horror entirely with puppets for his feature debut, Abruptio. Having premiered at the Santa Monica Film Festival, It stands out, making for a unique journey into grisly murders, alien invasions, guilt, and the surreal. Featuring a star-studded cast that includes legends in the genre
James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Jordan Peele (Nope), Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street), Hana Mae Lee (The Babysitter: Killer Queen), Rich Fulcher (The Mighty Boosh), Christopher McDonald (The Watcher 2022), and the late, great Sid Haig (Devil's Rejects).
Lester Hackel (Marsters) is a loser. He's 35, barely holding onto an office job he hates, lives with his overbearing mother and absentee father, and recently was dumped by his girlfriend. He's also given up drinking for at least the last few days but is determined to make it stick this time. A claim he's most likely made dozens of times before. After a night hanging with his seemingly only friend, Danny (Peele), he wakes up
to find an incision in the base of his skull. And with that, the roller coaster that is Abruptio begins its drop that will last for the duration.
Discovering an implant has been inserted into his head, wired to detonate if he doesn't follow the instructions he begins to receive, Lester will be forced to find out just how depraved he is willing to go to save his own skin and reap rewards he would never have earned on his current life path.
Accompanied by a rogue's gallery of Ne'er-do-wells including a struggling comic Sal (Haig), sadistic Mr. Salk (Englund), abuse survivor Chelsea (Lee), who takes an interest in Les and wants to help figure out this ordeal, and police chief Richter (McDonald) hellbent on getting a confession, to anything Lester might wish to confess to. It quickly becomes clear he must keep eyes on the back of his head as you never know when an ally might turn foe.
Abruptio is a mixed drink of a movie. Beginning as a noir thriller where you think these escalating crimes are leading up to a big syndicate reveal, only to take an abrupt turn into alien invasions and alternate dimensions. A fever dream of a narrative only made that much more surreal using puppets. Director Marlow states that the only comparison to a full puppeteer feature that he could relate to is Dark Crystal, although being fantasy, they didn't have to abide by any sort of realism in their film. Blending genres that generally don't cross paths can be a risk, but here it draws you in further as you try to decipher a riddle of a movie that keeps adding more absurd text just when you think you figured it out.
The use of puppets is jarring at the start, but as the story develops, the initial uncertainty melts away, and you're left engrossed in the film, subconsciously knowing that something is a little off, but it works. It's an ingenious route as Abruptio was a labor of love that took eight years to complete with Marlow, his wife, producer Kerry Marlow (Bedfellows), and lead puppeteer Danny Montooth working as a trio most days to complete the film.
The filmmakers recorded the actors in advance and edited the dialogue to use later when performing. Puppets don't age or complain about long hours, and with the horrendous things they had to put the characters through, you'd be hard-pressed to find an actor willing to put their body and mind through that type of abuse. Although, with the cast they landed, you never know.
The character designs, creatures, and sets feel authentic for the project. Every look is unique in its own right but leaves you feeling you've met or seen this type of person before, and your gut told you to walk to the other side of the street. There is both innocence and a sense of foreboding in the eyes of the characters, which do a lot of the emoting. The creature designs gave me a throwback to the 1950s Science Fiction serials and novel covers. There is a familiarity in the appearance, however original on their own. It's an excellent way to add nostalgia to a contemporary story without hitting the audience on the head with a specific homage.
An all-star cast giving it their all, a story that, when the credits roll, you understand the nuance and significance of everything you've been trying to process for 94 minutes, and a style that sets it miles apart from anything you'll see this year, or have seen, Abruptio is a movie that all fans of the genre will want to see and discuss with their contemporaries. The ultimate DIY for the love of filmmaking and a passion for the project that is sensed in every frame.
Evan Marlow and his minuscule crew have crafted a world they can be proud of, telling a powerful tale that may take you to other dimensions, but gets your home, covered in blood, but safe in the end, making you better for going down the rabbit hole with this team. You won't want to miss this one.
Presented by Hellbent Pictures, catch it streaming right now (March 1- March 12) via the Cinequest film festival's online event page, CineJoy. Check out the trailer below.