Hmmm — what to make of that strange symbol on the poster for 2011 Canadian shot-on-HD indie horror Abolition? It sure looks quasi-occultish —maybe even Kabbalistic —in some way, doesn’t it? For that matter, what should we make of the film’s title? It’s referring to the “abolition” of what, exactly?
If you’re looking for answers to these and other, let’s face it, less than pressing questions, don’t look to the flick itself, because it doesn’t answer them — and it raises a few more along the way that it doesn’t bother resolving for us, either. All of which is not to say it’s a lousy movie.
Confused yet? Well, you’ll be even moreso after sitting down to watch this thing, so I guess I’ll just begin at the beginning, as they say, and you can make of it what you will —
Joshua (Andrew Roth, who delivers a very nicely nuanced performance) was apparently born in the midst of the inky black mess you see above, and now he’s a full-grown adult who works as the live-in maintenance man at some shitty suburban Toronto-area halfway house/rehab center/apartment complex. The place is about to be condemned and he’s gonna find himself out of work. But none of that has soured his overly-generous personal disposition — he still gives away whatever money and food he might have to even less fortunate losers than himself. All in all, he seems like a regular saint of a fella.
There’s just one catch, of course — bad shit seems to happen to the people around him quite literally all the fucking time. Female friends find themselves almost getting raped, male friends find themselves attacked by desperate and hungry vagrants — it’s enough to make a person reconsider hanging around with this guy. The funny thing is, though, that whenever things start to get really ugly, Joshua blacks out, the would-be perpetrators of harm upon his acquaintances get dispatched (read : probably killed, but we never see the proof), and everything ends up being hunky-dory.
These spells of “missing time” are increasingly starting to freak poor ol’ Josh out, though, and even though he soon lands on his feet with a new building-superintendent-type gig, he decides to pay a visit to his mom, who lives way out in the sticks, to get some answers as to these mysterious powers of his. Something I probably would have done well before I was a forty-something like he is, but whatever.
Problem is, his mom’s not spilling the beans on anything. And his new “good samaritan”-type boss (he’s a defrocked former priest) really freaks out when he sees the symbol that Joshua’s always doodling in his notebooks (shocker : it’s the one pictured on the poster at the top of this post). For all his Christ-like actions and his inner-peace-radiating demeanor, it appears that this symbol Joshua’s so fond of drawing is actually the mark of some super-secret organization dedicated to watching over and protecting one specific person for one specific task. The term “antichrist” is never specifically used, but it’s pretty strongly hinted at.
Joshua’s got a thing for a married gal, too (played by Elissa Dowling), who has a history of being drawn to strays and wayward souls (her husband’s a physically abusive plumber and former drug addict). Is her new extracurricular love here to finally provide deliverance from her emotionally drained existence, or is she getting in deeper trouble with him than even she ever dreamed possible?
All these various and sundry plot threads coalesce (sort of) when Joshua is fucking crucified by his boss/benefactor, and he actually manages to climb down off the cross-in-the-boiler-room contraption he’s nailed to relatively unharmed (see above). Then it’s time to gather his new followers, who flock to him outside his apartment building after his “resurrection” (that none of them actually saw), and take ’em all out to his now-dead mom’s country house to finally meet the members of this shadowy “organization” ( I say “members” — we only ever actually see one of them, right at the very end, just before the credits roll) that’s been “looking out for him” by setting him up with a series of shitty apartment “super” jobs.
If all of this makes Abolition sound like a bit of a mess, well — it is. But it’s at least an interesting mess. The questions it lays out — is Joshua the antichrist?; if so, why is he helping people all the time?; is he really killing folks during his “blackout” periods?; what is the “ultimate destiny” he’s being prepared for?; how does changing ligthbulbs and unclogging sinks in flophouses exactly prepare a person for much of anything? — never get answered, and the ending feels like more a setup for a sequel that’s quite likely never going to happen than it does and honest-to-goodness resolution, but hey, what the heck? Director (and co-writer) Mike Klassen obviously enjoys asking some big questions, even if he hasn’t thought many (hell, any) of them through to their conclusion.
Visually speaking, it’s a pretty finely-crafted piece of work, as well, and even though HD isn’t anything like it’s cracked up to be by its partisans in my book, the whole thing looks pretty darn good. The story moves along at a nice little clip and never gets dull. Most (though not all) the acting is of a surprisingly high standard for a $150,000 (estimated, according to IMDB) production. And there’s a real sense of foreboding hanging over things from start to finish. All in all, Klassen seems to have a pretty good handle on how to make an effective low-budget horror film — apart from the pesky little detail of shooting a script that actually makes any fucking sense in the first place.
Like Long Pigs, which we took a look at around these parts yesterday, Abolition is part of R Squared Films’ “Extreme Canadian Horror”/”Pure Canadian Horror” (depending on which label they slap on the one you buy) five-movie set, and it’s presented in a more-or-less flawless widescreen presentation with nice 5.1 surround sound and no extras to speak of — apart from great value for money since it usually retails for somewhere around ten bucks. If you’re into well-executed, atmospheric, ominous, and ultimately thoroughly confusing movies that frankly don’t even attempt to resolve any of the numerous questions they’ve spent the previous 90 minutes raising (and occasionally I am), then you could do a heck of a lot worse than giving this one a shot. Prepare to find yourself interested and frustrated in equal measure and you’ll come out of the whole thing just fine.