Many people often romanticize the seemingly idyllic characteristics of the past that appear to offer a serene way of life, without truly realizing what harrowing aspects can also often plague the situation. But the determined protagonist in director Darren Lynn Bousman‘s new horror film, ‘Abattoir,’ soon discovers how distressing the past can truly be when she realizes that a horrifying crime spree is coming back to haunt her. The all-too-important lesson of how the secrets of the past can truly harm a person’s present and future was highlighted when the film, which was written by Christopher Monfette, David J. Schow and Teddy Tenenbaum, screened at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival. The thriller had its World Premiere last Tuesday, June 7, at the Arclight Culver City theater, where a second screening was added the next night, due to popular demand.
‘Abattoir’ follows Julia (Jessica Lowndes), a stylized and confident modern-day investigative reporter who’s a devoted retrophile of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Her otherwise calm and classical emotions are tested, however, when she uncovers a series of gruesome murders that are tied to real estate mysteries. Someone has been dismantling entire rooms from their foundations, and reassembling them together to make a new complete house. The discovery becomes unsettling for the writer when she uncovers the fact that the rooms were once the locations of heinous crimes. When people begin to warn her to not become to invested in tracking the suspect, she decides to pursue the case anyway. The cautions prove to be right when the case quickly becomes very personal for her when her family becomes the next target for the perpetrator. In order to finally stop the person who’s building the new horrifying home, she teams up with a police officer, Grady (Joe Anderson), who becomes a potential love interest for her along the way.
After working on the case together, Julia and Grady are led to the remote town of New English, where the only friendly resident who’s willing to help them is local homeowner Allie (Lin Shaye). The reporter and officer meet local cult leader, Jedediah Crone, as well, who also once instigated the events that brought Julia and Grady to his small town. But the seemingly poetic leader begins to pose a threat when he openly champions his plan to use the murders as the basis for building his own abattoir, or slaughterhouse, which leaves the town’s two newest arrivals to be the ones to stop him.
Bousman generously took the time to talk about directing ‘Abattoir’ on the afternoon that the thriller had its World Premiere during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how the thriller is based on a graphic novel he wrote, and what his experience was like of translating the story into the script with the screenwriters. The ‘Saw’ series director also mentioned how gratifying it was for him to be able to cast all of his first-choice actors for his latest horror movie, especially since he has worked with many of them on his previous projects.
The filmmaker began the interview by explaining why he decided to adapt the graphic novel into a horror film, and his overall approach to helming ‘Abattoir.’ “Anytime I direct anything, it’s an insurmountable challenge. It seems like it would get easier over time, but it doesn’t; in some respects, directing becomes harder. Every time you direct a film, there’s more pressure on you to make it better than, or at least make as much of an impact as, the one you made before,” Bousman revealed.
“Besides being difficult, it was also a long process. This movie took about six yeas to make, from when we said we were going to make it to when we actually started production,” the director also divulged. “During those six years, there were a ton of hurdles that we had to overcome, from financing falling through to a very beloved crew member dying before we started production. There were also weather constraints and conflicts in actor availabilities.” The director added that “you always have to fight the impossible while you’re making films, but this one seemed to have more than usual. So the fact that we actually completed it is a relief. It was a long journey to get to this point.”
Bousman then delved into the experience of making the thriller independently, and how did that process influenced his filmmaking approach. “Going back to what I first mentioned, making a film in general is hard. But when you make it independently, you have to be a lot more clever, because you don’t have the resources to fall back on.” He added that while making an independent movie like ‘Abattoir,’ he “may not have all the bells and whistles that I had while making the ‘Saw’ films. So you have to be a lot more crafty in making these types of films.”
One of the main challenges in shooting ‘Abattoir’ independently was that “we didn’t have the budget and time that we needed. So we were relying on our creativity, as opposed to our financial dollars, in making the film happen. In all due respect, I think it actually became a better film because of that,” the helmer admitted. “But there are still a lot of headaches when you’re making something like this, because you can’t throw dollars at the problem. You have to instead throw blood, sweet and tears at it,” Bousman also explained.
The director then discussed what the process of collaborating with the screenwriters on crafting the plot for the film, and translating the story from the graphic novel to the screen. “The comic book was based on an original story that I had. But it was created years before the screenplay was written,” he noted. “So one of the film’s writers, Chris Monfette, and I used the comic book more as a guide than a Bible; in fact, the comic book is nothing like the script at all.
“I actually think of the comic book as a precursor to the script,” Bousman also revealed. “The comic book fills in a lot of backstory and little things that the audience can know before going into the movie. So we basically took the comic book and said, ‘Here’s our world and the space that it exists in.’ We really exaggerated everything from that point for the movie, as film is a much different medium than comic books.”
The filmmaker also divulged that the script for ‘Abattoir’ went through many different drafts. “My ultimate idea for the movie was to turn it into a throwback to Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. You look at their antics in the film noirs that came out in the 1940s and ’50s, and I wanted the characters (in ‘Abattoir’) to have the same dialogue and fast wit. But I ultimately wanted to set the story in the horror universe, which I haven’t seen be done that often before. So I wanted to take these characters, and exaggerate them like they were Bogart and Bacall, and set them in the horror universe.”
Further speaking of the fact that the mystery film has a distinct noir look and emotional feel to the story as Julia and Grady investigate the house, Bousman then discussed why he was inspired to include that style in the horror movie. “We set out to make an adult fairytale with the film. During the time when ‘Abattoir’ was being written, I was very much into film noir, so I wanted the characters to reflect that. In some respects, all of the characters are a reflection of me.”
The helmer added that he’s interested in “Archaic and Arcane antiques. So if you go to my house, you’ll see that I have typewriters everywhere. I also have old lights from the 1940s and phones from the 1920s. I love that era, because it was a time that couldn’t rely on technology. Everything was manual, and I think there was something beautiful about that,” Bousman revealed. He also emphasized that by using the technology from that era, “You have to be more in the moment than you do if you use devices from today. So there’s something that inspired me about being in that mode of being in the moment with that technology.”
While the filmmaker wanted to capture the experience of being in the moment while using the historical technology in ‘Abattoir,’ he also wanted to make the film feel as though it was a fairytale. “I wanted to make it beautiful, haunting and dark, while also being colorful. So we took this film noir aspect, and placed it in this fairytale environment,” Bousman explained.
Following up on his thoughts on of not including much modern technology in the noir genre, the director also discussed how he feels current technology influences the horror and thriller genres overall. “I think every movie is different, so technology can either service or distract from a story,” he revealed. “I’m a slave to my technology; I’m constantly on my cell phone and computer. So it’s a statement about how I feel about technology-we have become reliant on these devices.”
Bousman added that with ‘Abattoi,’ he “wanted to make a movie that was different from the herd. There have been all of these great haunted house horror films that have been released recently, like ‘The Conjuring,’ ‘Insidious‘ and ‘We Are Still Here.’ So I wanted to do something different with the look and style of ‘Abattoir,’ and give it a more hyper-stylized look. So I decided that the first thing I wanted to deal with was the characters’ use of cell phones and technology.”
But the director added that “some movies lend themselves to the use of technology. If you’re making a movie like ‘Unfriended,’ you have to use technology; that’s the whole point of that movie.” Despite the benefits of technology in such projects as last year’s found footage supernatural horror film, Bousman added that he doesn’t “like the conveniences of technology that are used in movies. I don’t like when characters can or can’t conveniently get information from their cell phones. It’s when technology becomes a gimmick that I have a problem with it.”
Bousman then divulged his process of working with ‘Abattoir’s cinematographer, Michael Fimognari, to create the overall look of the film. “We sat down for weeks to talk about what we were trying to accomplish in, and what the purpose was of, each scene. One of our original concepts was that we wanted each frame in the movie to look as though it could be a wall painting,” the director divulged. “So we composed a lot of wide, spacious shots, and that was something that I hadn’t done before. I usually use close shots that are very claustrophobic. But I think if you pause ‘Abattoir’ at any given moment, it’s a beautiful shot, and is something I hope you could hang on your wall.”
In addition to discussing the visual approach he took while collaborating with Fimognari, Bousman also spoke about creating the overall look of the house, particularly since it’s being built from rooms where horrific tragedies have occurred. The director noted that since the horror thriller was made independently, he wasn’t able to have a set built, and instead filmed at actual locations. “So our production designer (Jennifer Spence) drove around to find actual locations. We shot the movie in New Orleans, which has a lot of great choices. However, I originally wanted to build a set, but making this movie on a low budget didn’t allow us to do so.”
The helmer then praised the actors he cast in the noir-mystery movie, including Lowndes, Anderson, Shaye and Callie, saying he was able to work with everyone he wanted to on the film. “I always knew that I wanted to work with Lin Shaye, for example, and she signed on immediately. So to have not only her, but everyone who was my number one choice for the roles, almost never happens. So I was extremely lucky in that respect, as I was able to work with a lot of my favorite actors.”
Bousman added that he was also happy that Lowndes agreed to play the film’s protagonist, as they have previously collaborated together on the 2012 horror musical, ‘The Devil’s Carnival.’ The director added that the only main actor in ‘Abattoir’ that he didn’t have a previous working relationship with was Anderson. “But I’m a huge fan of Joe’s acting, so I’m happy that I was finally able to work with him,” he divulged.
Once Lowndes and the rest of the actors were cast in ‘Abattoir,’ the filmamker wasn’t able to have much rehearsal time with them, due to the thriller’s quick shooting schedule. “I wish I did have that time with them, but when you’re making a movie in such a short amount of time, rehearsal time just wasn’t in the budget,” Bousman divulged. “Once the actors were cast, they flew out to the set a few days later, and we started shooting the next afternoon. I discussed the film with the actors when they were cast, but we had too quick of a turnaround to actually have rehearsals.”
The director further explained that since many of the actors live in Los Angeles, and the movie was shot in New Orleans, even meeting with them in person before filming began wasn’t possible. “I was in New Orleans for months before the actors got there, but they showed up the day before filming began. Once they arrived, they had to get acclimated with their new surroundings and time zone. They also had to go into wardrobe fittings. So this was literally trial by fire for them, as they were thrown in and had to pick up the material right away,” Bousman noted.
While the filmmaker didn’t have much time to fully rehearse with the actors once they arrived on the set in New Orleans, he was able to “have discussions with them about what the story was, as well as their characters. There’s a lot of mythology going on in ‘Abattoir,’ so it would have been easy for them to get lost in what they were saying. Even as an audience member, it’s easy to get lost, because every line the actors say can mean any number of things. So we really went through, and made sure that they understood, what they were saying. That way, the audience could have a better grasp of what they were saying. So we did do a lot of breaking down the script, and discussing what each line meant, as the dialogue has that very unique, hyper-stylized fashion. So I wanted to make sure that they understood their dialogue,” Bousman revealed.
Further speaking of the mythology in the thriller, the helmer divulged that the story and character development “was so dense, sometimes it was even hard for us to keep track of everything. There was so much we wanted to tell, but sometimes, a backstory was only given in one line. So if you miss that one line, you get lost. So I think this project demands a lot more from the audience than other movies, in the fact that you have to pay full attention when you’re watching it. If you’re not completely inside of it, you’re probably going to be left behind,” Bousman admitted. “What Julia, Grady and Lin Shaye(‘s character) say all give into this bigger story. So it was a balancing act to make sure that the audience could decipher what we were saying. Yet at the same time, we didn’t want to give the audience too much expedition.”
The director then spoke of his experience of having the thriller premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival, explaining that he’s happy to “finally have the chance to show it to people who worked on it for so many years of their lives.” But he also admitted that the process of releasing the thriller has also been “difficult. ‘Abattoir’ is something that I’ve cared for greatly since I started making it, and now I’m putting it out into the world. I care about this project so much, but in the end, it has to speak for itself,” Bousman noted.
“So overall, my hope as an artist is that people like it and understand it. The reality is that with this type of movie, its success depends on what people say. We hope that they respond to it and talk about it. Their voices are so powerful, because we don’t have a big distributor who’s going to be releasing the movie on thousands of theater screens nationwide. So this process has been exciting, scary and nerve-racking,” the helmer revealed.
Further speaking of the horror thriller’s release, Bousman also noted that the distribution the movie does receive will depend on how audiences who see it on the festival circuit respond to it. “Obviously, I want it to reach as wide of an audience as possible. After the film’s premiere, I hope that the majority of the masses will see it very soon,” the filmmaker stated.
Now that ‘Abattoir’ has had its premiere and is seeking official distribution, Bousman disclosed that he’s interested in continuing to work in the horror genres, “as it’s something that’s very near and dear to me. As for my next project, I can’t specifically say what it is, but it is a heist film, but it also has a very dark twist. It’s in the same way that ‘Abattoir’ isn’t completely a horror movie. It does have dark and mysterious people doing horrible things, but it’s really a crime-mystery-noir-thriller at heart,” Bousman noted. “My next genre movie will probably be in the same vein. It’s probably not going to be a horror film, but a dark and scary crime movie instead.”
Watch Entertainment Weekly‘s exclusive clip from ‘Abattoir’ below.
Written by: Karen Benardello