One-of-a-Kind Puppetry Horror Epic Abruptio (PANIC) Wants to Play a Game
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Evan Marlowe
Writer: Evan Marlowe
Runtime: 94 Minutes
Starring: James Marsters, Christopher McDonald, Hana Mae Lee
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Panic Film Festival in 2023.
Some people live average lives and don’t get the opportunity to do a whole lot with it. Sometimes, people’s lives are upended when life throws them a curve ball.
Les (James Marsters) has this exact problem. One morning he wakes up to find an explosive device connected to his neck that will detonate if he refuses to follow the instructions of a mysterious caller on his phone. As Les finds himself committing increasingly destructive and murderous acts, he also finds himself gaining the things he craves most: independence, companionship, and purpose. But is the price worth it?
Surreal and gory, Abruptio is an animated horror feature that leans in on its uniqueness to middling results.
While it may seem like an odd choice to make every single character a puppet in a very much real-world like setting, Abruptio does so intentionally. Merging its artform and its premise spectacularly, Les is handled as a puppet throughout the entire feature by the faceless organization telling him to commit escalating acts of chaos. The decisions that Les makes time and again forces him to face his own ethics and the morality of everyone around him. Ultimately, his lack of control and feelings of hopelessness win out in the end.
Right out the gate, one of the most impressive aspects of Abruptio is its worldbuilding. What starts as a simple piece of blackmail slowly unfurls into something much more creative and sinister. Originally, Les thinks he is alone in his struggles before discovering his friend is also in the same situation. Then, it expands to a stranger in a bar before ballooning further. Les finds himself unable to trust anyone lest they too have a part to play in his potential destruction. Beyond regular murder, Les is tasked with other jobs that take him further from his ordinary self. Eventually, this conspiracy takes on a new light in the climax when all is revealed.
The performances are hit and miss, mostly due to the nature of puppeteering. Some of the voice acting is incredibly well-done and convincing while other performances leave much to be desired. Some standouts include James Marsters’ Les and Hana Mae Lee’s Chelsea. Both actors put in the work to make their characters seem grounded in their wild choices.
It should be stated that this reviewer has a deep aversion to both human-like puppets and hyper realistic animation making Abruptio a particularly difficult watch. Of course, this is an incredibly biased take, but I was unaware that this film would take this direction: melding uncanny valley puppetry with very organic settings. It isn’t fair to judge the creators for their choice in art style, but I must say that had I known I would have skipped it altogether. Knowing this, please understand that this review may not be the best source of information if this is the type of media you seek out.
It is also worth commending the amount of passion that goes into realizing the universe of Abruptio. The first of its kind, no other movie has been comprised entirely of puppets like Abruptio, which gives the genre another win for creative direction. While the puppets may not be aesthetically pleasing to everyone, work is clearly put in to make them disturbingly life-like. After filming for years, Abruptio embodies the idea of a labor of love.
Horror animation is an ever-growing medium of storytelling for the genre which is leading to exciting works. Abruptio shows just the beginning of that boundary breaking and it should be commended for its ambitions. Its humor and style won’t work for everyone, but the passion behind the filmmaking should be commended. Otherwise, we’d just be content to let someone else control the stories being told in a much more boring way, right?
Overall Score? 5/10