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Abolition
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by Jay Seaver

"A fine prequel to a sadly nonexistant horror franchise."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Abolition" is a serviceable enough take on a certain horror subgenre, and the decision to put a figure seldom given screen time commensurate to his importance under the microscope instead of looking at the big picture is interesting (and also practical on an indie-movie budget). This approach does carry the risk of the audience feeling like the movie ends just as things are starting to get good, even if that is arguably missing the movie's point.

After a bloody opening flashback, the film focuses on Joshua (Andrew Roth), a janitor putting a great deal more effort into a falling-apart detox facility than anybody else. He's given a bonus as it shuts down that a homeless friend squanders, and an ugly incident afterward reveals that he has incredible powers and that it's time to move on. He's soon taken in by Matthew (Reggie Bannister), a former priest who could use a hand doing maintenance on a building he manages. By coincidence, one of the tenants is Mia (Elissa Dowling), whom Joshua met when she visited her suicidal ex-boyfriend at the hospital, and whose husband doesn't much appreciate how friendly she is to either the ex-boyfriend or the new handyman. As Joshua has trouble resisting temptation, Matthew is frightened by the symbols his new friend absently draws and sees around him, knowing their meaning. Perhaps a trip to see his mother Eva (Caroline Williams) will clear things up.

Director Mike Klassen and his fellow filmmakers (including co-writers Chantelle Kadyschuk and Chris Lawson) do a lot of interesting things right in Abolition. It's got a couple of solid hook scenes toward the start: The opening is soaked in blood but still manages to come off more as eerie and foreboding than just going for familiar shocks, and the Joshua's first outburst pays an already-tense scene off remarkably well. The sequence at Eva's house is as tense and off-kilter as it should be, allowing for the cast to hint at much more than they are saying. A lot of supernatural thrillers would sell their souls to have three bits that good in them, and the movie at least seems set up to reward repeat viewing: I find myself curious to re-examine the early scenes to figure out whether Joshua is drawn to bad situations or whether they are drawn to him, as well as if he influences them in one direction or another just by being nearby.

On the other side of the ledger are not so much things the filmmakers do poorly as things they choose not to do much with at all. There's an ominous conspiracy in the background that remains very hands-off for much of the movie so that the audience's attention can be focused on the main characters, and they could have used a little fleshing-out; it leaves the story's mythology feeling a bit generic and underdeveloped. Character arcs seem to meander and then take sharp turns in the lead-up to the finale. The final cut to black, though on an interesting shot, feels like the end of a first act rather than an entire story.

For the most part, Andrew Roth is able to seize on what's good and minimize what's less impressive. He plays Joshua as suitably haunted and tragic, often seeming utterly defeated by how his charitable desires and actions seldom seem to have good results. He carries a lot of scenes in his quiet way, also doing a decent job of adding the right sort of edge as Joshua becomes more assertive. Elissa Downing, Reggie Bannister, and especially Caroline Williams do all right playing opposite him, though they're not meant to be quite on his level. Tiffany Browne only appears in the opening scene, but she sells it well.

Even if it bogs down a bit in the middle, more works in "Abolition" than doesn't. For all that it does its character-driven work well - and sometimes, because of it - the movie can't help but seem like a prequel or tie-in to a more conventionally apocalyptic feature. If it were, I might praise it as an impressive expansion of the mythology, but without that it feels like a tease for something we'll never see.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=22708&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/07/11 04:41:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

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