Puppet films are few and far between, and Abruptio has the unique distinction of being the first-ever film to use realistic, life-sized puppets instead of human actors. The results are clearly a little unsettling at first. But after a while, the plot and characters combined with the unique visual style will no doubt bring you in. Put simply, this is a film that’s just too weird to ignore.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel star James Marsters voices Les Hackel, a down-on-his-luck everyman. Despite being in his mid-thirties, he still lives with his parents and works in a dead-end job. To make matters worse, his girlfriend suddenly decides to end their relationship, leaving him at his wit’s end. Even his best friend, Danny (voiced by Academy Award-winner Jordan Peele), fails to find the right words to comfort Les throughout his time of crisis. However, Les does not have too long to wallow in self-pity, as a mysterious agency soon informs him that a bomb has been implanted in his neck. It’ll detonate unless he follows their increasingly unhinged set of demands.
As he carries out the series of bizarre and often monstrous tasks at the behest of his blackmailer, Les meets an assortment of equally brazen and odd characters who are also being blackmailed. This includes a failed comedian named Sal (voiced by the late Sid Haig), who wonders why nobody laughs at his frankly awful jokes (a boomerang that doesn’t work apparently should be called a stick), and who actually seems to enjoy being given the opportunity to exact vengeance upon a world that never appreciated his comedic prowess.
Freddy Krueger actor Robert Englund lends his voice to the character of Mr. Salk, a social outcast who seems to have a stronger moral compass but who was still prepared to do whatever he could in order to survive. Salk laments how he’s unsure how far he’s willing to go until he metaphorically had a gun placed to his head, which seems to be his way of justifying his actions.
While all this is happening, Les also starts to form a bond with Chelsea, a fellow blackmail victim who he might just be falling in love with, although he clearly does not want her to discover his secrets. While he initially seems like a regular everyman who was simply set a bad card, we soon learn that Les may not have been as innocent as we were led to believe. This makes the torment he’s subjected to seem justified, in an incredibly twisted kind of way.
However, Lester is also rewarded for the heinous acts he was forced to commit with wealth and a luxurious new home. Plus, he openly relishes the opportunity to kill a certain individual who he clearly held a petty grudge against. This is a film that offers no easy answers to the tough questions. To drive home its message of moral uncertainty, Abruptio also features various hand-drawn animated segments shown on the characters’ TV screens, that appear to show society falling apart. While these segments were brief, it was refreshing to see more traditional old-school 2D animation as opposed to the hideous CalArts style which contaminated most hand-drawn animated projects in recent years. The score from The Human Centipede composer Patrick Savage was also suitably outlandish and unhinged because nothing in this movie comes close to being normal.
Needless to say, Abruptio is a film that clearly likes to screw with the minds of its viewers. In addition to its perplexing visual style, it also forces us to think about how far we would go if we were being ordered to carry out evil tasks. The use of puppets will also haunt most viewers because, in addition to their disquieting lifelike designs, there was just something so incredibly unsettling about seeing puppets bleeding and taking damage in the same way a human body would.
Make no mistake, Abruptio certainly has a high body count by the time the end credits rolled. While they may just be puppets, you’ll still be incredibly disturbed by the various ways in which they were mutilated and dismembered. It may take place in a weird world populated by life-sized puppets, but Abruptio still reminds us that, just like in real life, there are no happy endings. The way in which some of the puppet bodies continued to briefly move and speak after literally being decapitated also implies some of the scenes may be figments of Les’ imagination. Different viewers will interpret Abruptio in different ways, and fans will probably be arguing about the real meaning of the film for years to come.
The puppets themselves looked early lifelike for the most part. However, their extra-large eyes also allowed them to express their feelings in a way that would have been difficult with more accurately proportioned facial features. Each of the puppets also looked unique in its own way, and you can really tell that a great deal of effort went into designing each individual face so that they matched the personalities of their characters. At the same time, the dedicated performances from the cast also helped the models come to life in a convincing way. Frequent close-up shots meant that each disturbingly realistic facial wrinkle and fold was shown in great detail.
While the puppets’ strings were never shown onscreen, which made them feel a little more alive, it was still odd to see them interacting with actual live-action environments. You almost expected real human beings to show up at any moment. You never quite get used to seeing the puppet characters in place of regular people, which is probably just what the filmmakers intended.
Abruptio certainly offers fans something completely different and unique, making it a welcome breath of fresh air in an age of endless sequels, remakes, and reboots. The use of human-sized puppets may be off-putting to some, but those willing to look past this unquestionably bold stylistic choice will no doubt find plenty to admire with Abruptio. Even viewers who find it too strange to genuinely enjoy will still be suitably perplexed when they watch it. Simply put, this is a film that really does have something for everyone.
Viewers who are not perturbed by the use of human-sized puppets will commend Abruptio for its unique visual-style and its audacious premise. And those who are too perturbed by its irregularity will still find it too damn strange to completely ignore.