The limits of unique mediums open doors for creative filmmakers. The use of puppets is not new on film, but marionettes rarely get the same opportunities. Director Evan Marlowe creates a horrific vision of life through lifelike puppets. Combining live-action footage with absurdist horror, Abruptio frightens. The body horror and surrealist imagery result in a unique vision.
Stuck in a dead-end job, Lester’s (James Marsters) life is not what he expected. Yet everything changes when one day, he discovers a bomb has been implanted in his neck. As he tries to discover why, a secret group forces him to commit murder and acts of violence to stay alive. Where the days and nights will go is anyone’s guess.
Marlowe creates a bloody and upsetting nightmare world around his characters. It’s truly astonishing to see the quality of the puppets and how he integrates them into the world. While some may imagine a Team America aesthetic, these are far more tactile and realistic. There’s a grotesque humor in the design that undeniably elicits a reaction. As we watch their complex facial expressions shift, it’s clear that Marlowe is breaking ground in the field.
Additionally, blending live-action performers with puppets gives him more versatility. While close-ups often use the puppets, some shots include human hands or even a full-body actor sprinting through a scene. These are not always the cleanest transitions, but they work far more than they do not. These unique edits allow for much larger explorations of the characters while grounding them in real-world settings.
The knock on Abruptio stems from its story. While there are exciting visuals on display, the madness of this world gets out of Marlowe’s control. While it cruises at a brisk pace, several decisions to not track with the characters, even in an absurdist world like this one. The commentary is sometimes a little scattershot, embracing more nihilistic themes rather than trying to critique culture. This hurts Abruptio‘s ability to connect with audiences despite its intriguing visuals.
One of the most visually unique films of 2023, Abruptio should find its audience over time. Applying this story with amazing puppets makes for a fascinating exploration. At its core, Abruptio attempts to understand what makes us human. As an exercise in creative craftsmanship and filmmaking, it makes for a compelling experience.