Review: Evan Marlowe’s ‘Abruptio’ is the Nightmare Puppet Show of Your Dreams

Despite my attraction to outside-the-box films in general, it’s very rare for a horror project to truly surprise me these days, as many movies – even ones I like – feel like well-executed retreads of things that have come before them. Evan Marlowe’s Abruptio, though, feels completely unique. An idea that, on paper, feels like it could have fallen apart at every stage of production. What’s even more unique, is that it didn’t. 

Abruptio is the story of Les Hackel, a mild-mannered 9-to-5er with a drinking problem who still lives with his parents and who has no professional or romantic prospects on the horizon. When we first meet him, he’s just been dumped by his girlfriend, is attending Alcoholics Anonymous, has a gross best friend, and is constantly being berated by his overbearing mother. One day, he wakes up with a scar on his neck and the frightening realization that someone has implanted a bomb at the base of his skull. The question of who’s behind this is Abruptio’s big mystery as Les is forced to carry out heinous and violent acts at the behest of some very evil people. 

I’m burying the lede here, though. What’s incredible about Abruptio is that, rather than using actors, all of this is depicted using life-sized, realistic puppets. It’s the result of an eight year, meticulous process and it shows. Combined with the fact that Marlowe has signed on some bonafide legends, including Robert Englund, the late Sid Haig, Jordan Peele, Hana Mae Lee, and James Marsters, and Abruptio is definitely worth your time, even if you’re not a puppet fan. 

Abruptio’s puppetry is not a simple Muppets affair (no shade on the Muppets, though). They’re human-like, but feel just slightly off which adds to the surreal horror elements of the story in a big way. Slight nuances of emotion and big violent set pieces both work really well in this environment, and Abruptio manages to do some elaborate world-building in the medium as well. Les’s face expresses sadness, frustration, anger, and joy better than many human performances I’ve seen, and his supporting cast do too. It’s a remarkable effort, with few comparisons to be made in terms of feature films outside of big-budget productions like Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal and stop-motion films like Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa and Phil Tippett’s Mad God. To use puppetry to tell a horror story, though, is the domain of Marlowe alone (as of this writing, anyhow).

It would be easy to write Abruptio off as a gimmick. Sure, any story would attract attention in a medium like an elaborate puppet show. But what Marlowe has done here is to use the puppetry to enhance a story – a story which is, itself, about a character that’s being puppeted and manipulated by external forces – that’s already compelling. To depict this tale of tragedy and outright ostentatious horror with puppets that are so expressive that, should you turn away from the screen for a brief moment, you might mistake them for human actors is a huge accomplishment. I’m not sure what the release strategy is for Abruptio, which is still making its way through the festival circuit, but it’s a remarkable project whose very existence is a testament to Evan Marlowe’s persistence and artistic vision. 

Abruptio is currently playing film festivals, but you can get news and other details about the film’s production on the official website.

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