The AbandonedWhen After Dark Films, in association with Lions Gate Films, released the 8 Films to Die For last year, I’ll admit that, while hoping for something good (and maybe even scary) from these films, I was mostly reticent about seeing them. It seems these days that the most one can expect from a horror film in American theaters is either bloody gore or nearly stock footage by now of a stained wall where someone has been pulled over to the other side or something having to do with some sort of mistreatment and perhaps murder in the past to be avenged by the spirit of the deceased—not limiting itself to simple revenge but spreading the destruction far and wide into the path of anyone who happens to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Directed By: Nacho Cerdà
Written By:
Karim Hussain
Castelao Producciones
MPAA: Rated R

For the most part, my reticence proved not to be unfounded, a good measure of the eight films proving to be mediocre at best, some just plain awful. One or two of the more low-budget and independent films reached for the mark, and though they may have missed it, I couldn’t help but cheer them on and enjoy myself if for nothing more than the heart put into the work. (One of the standouts in the low-budget area being Penny Dreadful, an excellent, taut little film that, while having holes here and there, made me keep my eye on the screen out of wonder as to what might happen next.)

When The Abandoned was released on DVD, I again approached it with a certain reticence, wondering if I was taking home a gem or a lump of coal.

Thankfully, my fears here proved completely unfounded.

Adapted (almost more so based on) a Russian script that director Nacho Cerda took a liking to, The Abandoned tells the tale of a brother and sister looking to find their long-lost parents in their home country of Russia.

Marie (Milla) Jones, played very well here by Anastasia Hille, is a movie producer with her own family who now, after years of searching and trudging through red tape (no pun intended) has found the home that she was sped from as a child. Not a lot can be said about the film’s plot without giving a spoiler, so we’ll have to leave it pretty much alone there. She has, in short, found home and intends to seek out this old house of memory and find a way to reconstruct her past. And it seems, though it may be cliche, that forces are conspiring to help her along her way.

Though the movie doesn’t get very high ratings on several movie sites, I believe the film to be a sleeper, one that can be dismissed on the first viewing, but should the viewer trouble themselves by watching it again, the subtle nuances of the film stand out and make for a rare, albeit more sophisticated, horror movie experience.

First (and in this reviewer’s opinion) and foremost: cinematography. The film’s landscape begins in Russia and remains in Russia. And yet, like Marie’s character, takes on an almost instantaneous evolution from well-kempt and put together into a more destitute, isolated and harried vision of solitude and emptiness. Starting at the airport and migrating to a sanitized hotel room, the camera work lulls the viewer, bringing them into Marie’s world as she knew it before, and hinting very little and what she will know at the end.

Soon, however, Marie will begin a journey into a lush yet isolated area where the house of her parents waits for her return.

As each shot increases in scope, the viewer might notice the stark contrast of the isolation with the beauty of the land. Nearly every shot in the first few minutes of the film could be snapped and made into a wonderful photograph. It’s extremely satisfying to see cinematography this well executed in a horror film.

Second, the house.

Again, without spoilers, it is difficult to go into depth. But this house is almost breathtakingly haunting. One wonders how the actors managed to walk onto this set day in and out and manage to go home and sleep at night. Cerda gets it right, treating the house as a character as much as Marie or her brother. Every spiderweb in the proper place, every dark room the door pushed only slightly open, every stair step creaking at the right moment. Old and forgotten, the house itself looks as though it feels its own abandonment and longs for some kind—any kind—of company. And one gets the impression it will have this company, one way or another.

The third nuance of this film is the sound. If you’ve ever wondered what things that go bump in the night sound like, then surely this movie gives you the textbook definition of what those sounds should be. Making use of surround sound to the fullest extent, Cerda relentlessly gives you the creeps by dropping something in this corner, having a door creak in that corner, and using something as simple as drops into standing water make you hope that it might be just the wind, and that nothing is actually around the corner.

Alas, it is, however.

Finally, the actor’s performances. Sure, the obligatory elements are there. Hell, it wouldn’t be horror if those weird, eccentric folk didn’t meander into the landscape at some point, right? But Anastasia Hille, along with Karel Roden (you might remember him as Rasputin from Hellboy) deliver fine performances that manage to sometimes border on being overboard while mostly managing not to cross that line. The brotherly-sisterly love is not manifest instantly, as is often the case with horror films, where complete strangers manage to trust each other within the first few minutes of the film. The bond is worked for, the trust only earned after time together. As the tension mounts, some trust is dissolved, and both actors do a good job of pulling back without distancing themselves too far from one another.

Above all, The Abandoned is just plain creepy. That’s something to be said for a modern horror movie. American audiences (including myself the chief of sinners here) are so jaded that we crave more and more in order to be stimulated into fear. When a movie like this comes along and manages to have you occasionally checking over your shoulder to make certain your hallway is empty (as I did—more than once, I’m happy to admit) and stimulate you with less, instead of more, it’s an enjoyable experience. And welcomed.

Less is not always more, contrary to the saying. But when it is more, like it is with The Abandoned, it’s a helluva good time.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
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Posted on May 30, 2008

Category : Reviews

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One Comment → “The Abandoned”

  1. maica

    8 years ago

    hi!, i’m just coruise bout this movie that’s why i’d ly’k to watch it.. and also because i’m a horronic kind of person!

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