2007Director: Nacho Cerdá
Cast: Anastasia Hille, Karel Roden
esmerizing. Unique. Daring. Profound. Sadly, none of these words are likely to be associated with The Abandoned, the latest horror film in so many weeks to try its hand at frightening audiences. I know what you’re asking yourself—did anyone really have high hopes for this film? I’d argue that The Abandoned, in concept alone, deserves far more accolades than it’s likely to receive. It begins with an abundance of unheralded potential, setting the stage for a masterpiece in what could be called supernatural determinism. As the story wears on, however, what promise it had gradually fades until the end product leaves the viewer with the sneaking suspicion that commercial interests supplanted whatever artistic vision motivated its conception.
At its core, The Abandoned grapples with a potentially thought-provoking premise. Its two central characters—twins abandoned and subsequently separated at birth after their mother’s abnormal and brutal death—return to their homeland of Russia to seek out the missing pieces of their veiled pasts. Both their roads lead them to an abandoned house located on an isolated island deep in the woods. It is here that they meet for the first time, though under the most strenuous of circumstances, considering that they both find themselves haunted by their own ghosts. Literally.
This idea alone provides enough raw materials to craft a compelling and chilling ghost story, establishing a ‘determinist versus existentialist’ mindset. The concept of foreknowledge of your own demise—down to the precise manner in which it will be carried out—could have provided enough content to fuel several unique horror films.
To show how the film fumbles with its content, a quick look at the setup concerning one of the characters is in order. The film makes a point to establish early on that the female twin named Marie (played rather adeptly by unknown actress Anastasia Hille) does not know how to swim. Later, she encounters her own glossy-eyed ghost, soaking wet and pale from suffocation, opening up a whole new element of tension and fear that the film fails to capitalize upon. Can she prevent this future? Is her own ghost trying to tell her something? Unfortunately, these questions remain unanswered as the apparition relentlessly chases Marie around the abandoned house for 90 minutes or so, pulling out every conceivable horror cliché in the process. To be fair, The Abandoned still plays upon an unsettling enough fear to construct a moderately frightening plot thread, but given the potential this film possessed, it falls far short of the brilliance it could have achieved.
Nonetheless, The Abandoned somehow manages to rise above the muck of the standard-issue horror that have infested theaters as of late (hardly a difficult feat). The movie is relatively light on the gore (though it does get rather gruesome toward the end) and more concerned with the atmosphere, perhaps to an exaggerated extreme, since at times its pursuit of this uneasy aura results in a monotonous sense of foreboding without the subsequent frights to unwind that tension.
Regardless, the film’s chief strength still stems from this unsettling ambience, provided in part by the richly detailed setting. Each room of the rundown house presents its own small wonder in set design. If only the surroundings had been utilized for more satisfying purposes. As such, the film offers more concept that actual content, forging a story that could have used more exposition or character building. Without the character-based foundation it so desperately requires, the film fails to thread any sort of consistency into its presentation. Too muddled to work commercially, but not surreal enough to appeal to a more artistically inclined audience, the movie is too vague to appeal to the majority of moviegoers. Had Mr. Cerdá been a bit more resolute in his purpose, he might have had something here.
The film ultimately leaves audiences with little more than smoke and mirrors. If the film does contain any message at all, it’s a rather peculiar one. The story begins and ends with a voiceover narration that touches upon the need to seek out the past. In the opening monologue the female narrator stresses the importance of chasing down the pieces of your own personal history in order to discover who you are. Conversely, in the closing segment the narrator states the exact opposite. Now that we’ve seen Mr. Cerdá’s intriguing setup wind down to its grim conclusion, this curious coda suggests that the oversimplified message contained in the film boils down to discarding the past and focusing on the future. The sentiment is a bit trite and, considering the sickening reliance on predestination pervading throughout the film, ultimately pointless. If you ask me, it’s a little reckless to end a mediocre film with a plea to forget the past and move on. After this experience, that’s precisely what I felt like doing.
The Abandoned is currently playing in wide release.