With impressive creativity and craftsmanship, “Abruptio” is astonishing — a film full of puppets that probes the depth of humanity.
There’s a reason Evan Marlowe’s Abruptio made our list of Most Anticipated Horror Films back in 2021 when the film was initially rumored to be released. Once you hear about the unusual premise and the unbelievable voice talent involved, it’s pretty difficult not to be intrigued.
If you’re a fan of unique, outside-the-box horror like me, you may find yourself practically salivating.
The phrase, “You’ve never seen anything like this,” tends to be grossly overused in movie reviews. But I can assure you, in this case, it’s objectively true.
Abruptio is a film made entirely with puppets. It also has the unique distinction of being the first-ever film to use realistic, life-sized puppets instead of human actors. So, truly, you’ve never seen anything like it.
A labor of love taking years to bring to fruition, voice recording began back in 2015. As for that voice talent? It’s a bona fide who’s who of genre royalty, including Jordan Peele, Robert Englund, and the late Sid Haig.
The incredible Hana Mae Lee (Pitch Perfect, The Babysitter: Killer Queen) also stars. And the lead role is voiced by James Marsters, whom Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans will know and love as the fan favorite, Spike.
It’s interesting to note that Marsters is one of the most unrecognizable voices in the cast. The talented actor rose to fame playing a very British bad boy vampire with punk-rock London swagger. His accent on Buffy was so convincing that many fans didn’t realize he’s actually an American from California.
Marsters plays Les Hackel, a 35-year-old downtrodden man consumed by the tedium of daily life.
He’s stuck in a job he hates and a stale relationship that has long plateaued into apathy, even before his fed-up girlfriend finally decides to leave him. He has no prospects or ambitions, lives with his frustrated parents, and is a (barely) recovering alcoholic.
After almost hitting a young girl who seemingly gets pushed out in the road, Les visits his friend Danny (Jordan Peele). Later, Danny sends him a cryptic message, instructing Les to check the back of his neck for a scar. Danny informs him that he has the same scar and a bomb has been implanted under their skin.
Not long after realizing the severity of the situation and realizing this isn’t a hoax, Les learns that he must follow specific instructions that lead him on unspeakably horrific missions. If he fails to complete the missions, which always involve him committing monstrous deeds, the bomb will go off.
At the same time, Les finds his new overlords tend to reward him handsomely for playing along, gifting him with a new car, a beautiful new home, and loads of cash.
Les also discovers he’s not the only one being controlled by some unseen evil hellbent on destruction. He’s frequently paired with a bevy of eccentric characters who also receive deadly directives.
The first person he meets on his fiendish adventures is a hack comedian named Sal (voiced by Sid Haig), whose set is groan-inducing but pales compared to his casual misogyny, armchair philosophy, and uncomfortable enthusiasm for carrying out the vile tasks that have been ordered.
The task these two are given is unspeakably horrific, and the film doesn’t shy away from the horror and brutality for a minute.
In fact, it’s precisely why this use of puppets works so well in this film.
It allows Marlowe to go much further than would otherwise be comfortable if actors were used.
The fact that it is puppets, not humans, getting their heads bashed in and exploded — or their bodies fed through a grinder — makes it more palatable.
Yet, it is still as gruesome and violent as any horror fan could want. And these scenes of extreme violence still pack quite a punch.
After a particularly nasty and heartbreaking job, Les gets picked up by a police officer and taken to the station for interrogation.
The officers demand he confesses, but he’s not sure what he’s confessing to. Until he tells them what he wants to hear, they “encourage” his confession through extreme torture while his court-appointed attorney simply watches.
At this point, the film starts to develop a compelling, multi-faceted mystery.
Who or what is behind the manipulation of Les and others? What do the cops want from him, and does he really have a horrible secret to confess? If so, what is it, and does it explain why he’s been chosen for these grisly missions?
How is Les connected to the other players in this sadistic game? And how much of this bizarre universe is real, imagined, or distorted by Les’ warped perspective?
Next, he’s partnered with Clive (Darren Darnborough), a condescending, rage-fueled British hitman, who ties him up and leaves him in a warehouse. A young college student named Chelsea (played with considerable depth and vulnerability by Hana Mae Lee) wanders in, begging for help. She’s just been attacked. She can’t protect herself and needs a safe place to stay.
It seems the world is falling apart, and we’re now in the middle of some type of apocalyptic meltdown. Animated clips on the television sets hint at this — starting with the president being assassinated and later the Statue of Liberty being blown up — and sounds of chaos, rioting, and shooting happening outside.
Les takes Chelsea back to his new home, where she finds the bodies of his last victims (the previous inhabitants of the home). She freaks out, understandably so, but she’s also desperate with limited options.
So she decides to stay, soon becoming emotionally attached to Les.
They try to piece together the clues about what’s happening and get to the bottom of this madness.
Les’ next job pairs him with a socially awkward but refined CPA obsessed with cleanliness order who calls himself Mr. Salk (Robert Englund).
Mr. Salk seems to have more of a moral compass than any of his previous partners, but he justifies his wrongdoings by explaining that none of us know how far we’ll go to survive when we have a gun to our heads.
There’s a gut-wrenching scene where Mr. Salk talks about the agony of his previous job, and it’s more unspeakable than you can imagine. Thankfully, we don’t see it unfold, but just hearing about it is affecting enough.
The horror continues when poor Mr. Salk is given another stomach-turning job that pushes him to the brink of sanity, intentionally playing on his worst fears and anxieties.
It’s a scene that pushes the gore factor to an eleven and is jaw-dropping to watch. It’s too much for Mr. Salk and may be nearly too much for some viewers. Englund is outstanding in an intense and emotional role.
Soon, things start to take an even weirder turn, and we enter the world of nightmarish science fiction. Les believes he may be losing his mind, and we’re never sure if he is or if something more sinister is at play.
Is Les’ sanity slipping, or has he entered a surreal alternate reality?
Abruptio will keep you on the edge of your seat as you wait for answers to a myriad of questions.
And when those answers finally come, it’s the kind of reveal that takes your breath away.
It’s an ending that elegantly pieces all the weird and disparate parts together, offering a satisfying payoff for your patience while making you wish some questions had remained unanswered.
With puppets so lifelike, boasting such exquisite detail, along with committed voice performances, you’ll forget you’re not watching live actors on the screen. At the same time, it offers a disorienting visual style that keeps you in a constant state of unease. And seeing these puppets get gutted and mutilated, gushing blood while inner parts come spilling out, is nothing short of haunting.
The final scene is nothing short of perfection.
A dark comedy with considerable depth and the ability to reveal much about human nature and the consequences of our choices, Abruptio will draw many viewers in on the strength of its unique gimmick. But rest assured; it’s far from a one-trick pony.
The puppet work is beyond impressive and worthy of accolades. But Marlowe sacrifices nothing in terms of story or character development.
This is the total package.