Abruptio REVIEW – Too Weird to Hate, Not Good Enough to Love


Any film made entirely with puppets piques the interest of fans of weird stuff. A horror movie made entirely with incredibly detailed life-sized puppets starring the voice talents of Jordan Peele, Robert Englund, and the late Sid Haig is too exciting to miss. So it’s disappointing that writer/director Evan Marlowe’s new film Abruptio doesn’t quite come together as the bizarre masterpiece it could have been.

The film follows Les Hackel (James Marsters) who lives an apathetic life going through the motions of a meaningless job, stuck in a relationship he doesn’t care about, and with no ambition or prospects to change his situation. One day, Les’s friend Danny (Peele) tells him to check the back of his neck for a scar, a scar that hides a bomb implanted under his skin. Soon, Les begins to receive instructions for missions he must complete or the bomb will go off.

It’s unclear at first what direction the film will take with this premise. Will it become a “who has done this and why” thriller? A Saw-like horror movie? Something meta about how all our lives are being orchestrated by the systems of capitalism? What Abruptio ultimately settles into is a set of vignettes that move between all three of these, and more outlandish plots.

That narrative structure allows the movie to explore different genres and poke at the “we’re all puppets in this world” concept from various angles, but it costs the film narrative momentum. There’s no real sense of urgency outside of the various missions that Les is sent on, even as the backdrop of the film tells a story of the world falling apart. Yet despite that lack of narrative momentum, there’s a sense that you can’t look away because you never know what’s going to happen next.

Visually, the film is a mess in ways that are mostly to its benefit, but sometimes shockingly disappointing. The lifelike puppets fall into a disturbing uncanny valley, as their faces are so full of detail they almost look human. Their eyes (which regularly blink) are too big to look human, but there’s something in them that conveys a real sense of interiority. The lighting moves between serviceable to looking like it was shot by teens in someone’s backyard during summer vacation, but that non-cinematic, overly familiar to reality look contributes to the film’s unnerving quality. The only real visual problem is the confusing use of some shoddy CGI images that could just as easily have been created with puppets.

It’s not just the visual world or the horrifying (if not quite original) premise that make Abruptio an uncomfortable watch though. There’s a lot of strange humor and misogyny throughout the film that initially seems like it may be another aspect meant to disconcert viewers. But as it goes on, and the misogyny builds and comes out of the mouth of our protagonist, it starts to feel that the movie isn’t commenting on or knowingly using misogyny to unnerve its audience, but instead is just somewhat misogynistic. Add to that the film’s poor handling of a conversation about a potential sexual assault and several scenes that feel just a bit more edgy teenager than thoughtfully provocative, and the form of discomfort Aburptio instills shifts from impressively curated to disappointingly trite and frankly a bit icky.

Abruptio is far too strange, narratively and visually, to dismiss and there are surely some fans of self-consciously odd movies who will adore its many idiosyncrasies, but it’s just not good enough to recommend to anyone who wouldn’t already be seeking something like this out.

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Abruptio is a singular film on almost every level, which makes it worth seeking out for fans of weird movies, but it has some ideological issues and isn’t quite good enough to transcend its niche.