CINEQUEST FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Many varieties of puppets exist. There’s rod/arm, marionette, flat finger, finger, glove, stick, sock, and so, so many more. Most audiences would be familiar with the media revolving around puppets: marionette, rod/arm, and glove. Abruptio, writer-director Evan Marlowe’s first feature-length film, is a puppet film unlike any other. Heck, it’s unlike out there at all, puppets or not.
Les (James Marsters) works in a cubicle and hates it. He also despises that he’s such a sad-sack he still lives at home with his mother, Doreen (Carole Ruggier). To put the rotten cherry atop the crap sundae that is his life, Les’ girlfriend breaks up with him. One day, Danny (Jordan Peele), the only friend Les has, gives him some bad news. That stitched-up scar on the back of his neck means someone implanted a bomb there. Whoever it is will send Les on various missions around the city, and failure to complete them means the bomb goes off.
The first mission involves Les unleashing poison gas at his dead-end job. Each subsequent assignment amps the ante until things get so brutal it is impossible to believe. Along the way, Les runs afoul of the lousy stand-up Sal (Sid Haig) and the germophobic Mr. Salk (Robert Englund). More importantly, Les meets Chelsea (Hana Mae Lee), a young woman who might help him find his humanity.
“…will send Les on various missions around the city, and failure to complete them means the bomb goes off.”
After the first mission, Abruptio establishes Les’ unstable mental state. As conspiracies are uncovered, babies with tentacles are fought, and aliens are dispatched, viewers are left to figure out what’s real. Marlowe structures the film unconventionally, adding a Lynchian flavor to the ordeal. Unfortunately, it also means there’s not much momentum for the first half. There is so much that needs to be set up that it feels like the plot doesn’t begin until the 40-minute mark.
However, the visuals are great. Marlowe serves as director of photography and clearly knows exactly how to light and frame the life-sized puppets. The lighting is moody and intense. The editing is also good, especially as Les loses more and more of his sanity.
But the reason to see the thriller is the puppetry. Each character looks realistic enough but retains elements that are unnatural, cartoony, or purposefully exaggerated. They move wonderfully, every gesture conveying what they want and who they are. If one is a fan of puppets, then this is a must-watch on that alone.
The voice acting throughout Abruptio is strong. Marsters brings a gruffness to Les that aids in understanding his state of mind. Peele is only in the film for a few scenes but makes audiences deeply feel for him. Haig is appropriately slimy, and Englund brings a certain class that the writing does not.
Abruptio takes a while to start, and its sheer insanity will turn some people off. But that’s exactly why Marlowe’s offbeat thriller is so engaging. From the impressive puppetry to the strong cast, there’s a lot to latch onto and have fun with. Marlowe proves to have a strong vision and a unique style.
Abruptio screened at the 2023 Cinequest Film Festival.
"…the reason to see the thriller is the puppetry."