‘The Abandoned’

by Josh Boris

There are two major types of horror films that most horror movies can be seen as derivations of: the slasher and the atmospheric thriller. As popular as they are, I don’t see very much artistic merit in the former (with a few exceptions). The latter, however, is an excellent realm for artistic exploration because of its reliance on mood and ambiance for the “thrills.” Although the occurrences are rare, a disturbingly creepy visual framework working in conjunction with a well plotted script can create genius (e.g. “The Shining”). And if the script isn’t that great, well, at least the movie is purty.

“The Abandoned” is one of those purty films. In classic horror movie set-up, the opening presents us with “1966: Somewhere in Russia” and a family sitting down to a nice meal. The walls shake. Lightning flashes. A truck zooms up. The father goes outside and opens the truck. Inside is a dead woman and two screaming children. Flash forward 40 years.

Marie (Anastasia Hille) is contacted by a Russian notary who has information about her birth parents (she was spirited out of Russia and adopted by some Brits as an infant). When she arrives in Russia, she is informed that her mother was murdered soon after Marie’s birth, and Marie has inherited a run-down farmhouse. While exploring the decrepit house (at night, of course), she encounters Nicolai (Karel Roden), who claims to be her long lost twin brother. The two explore the house and grounds and encounter ghastly doppelgangers of themselves, hear eerie screams and noises, and attempt to decipher the mystery of their mother’s death. When Nicolai makes the disturbing conclusion that they were meant to die with their mother and that the house has brought them back here, the two must try to escape before history can right itself.

Although this is rather standard horror movie fare (evil ghosts, a house that exerts control), the movie offers up some interesting visuals and plot twists. The deliberate pacing leads to a steady build-up of tension that at least keeps the viewers involved. As I said before, the movie is beautifully filmed in dark blues and greens and is full of shots through windows or cameras that slowly creep up on the protagonist giving the sense of an ubiquitous, all-seeing presence.

However, excellent cinematography is rarely an adequate cover for a poor script. It almost would have been better if there had been less script or no script at all, because the exposition of the house’s nature and history is by far the most illogical and inane of the dialogue. Director Cerda seems to be creeping toward fascinating conclusions, and his visual clues valiantly try to save some of the film, but half-hearted motifs that are dropped or plot points that don’t really go anywhere muddle up the movie. On top of this, there’s only so many times that Marie can wander through the house and freak out because she sees a ghostly double of herself before it just gets boring.

“The Abandoned” strives to deliver but comes up a little too short, although at least it fails because it’s too long and muddled, rather than the plot being just plain stupid. The last third attempts to redeem the film, and comes a long way, but one can’t help but think there was a better film in there that’s desperately trying to get out.