The Abandoned Review
Marie (Anastasia Hille) is a Russian-born American film producer, who has recently been summoned back to her homeland by a notary named Andrei Misharin (Valentin Ganev) in order to collect the deed for her parents old farm property. Misharin informs Marie that he had personally located her lost parents’ land and discovered that her mother was murdered shortly after giving birth. Marie begrudgingly heads out to the old farmhouse, located on an island only accessible by a single bridge and with the aid of a guide named Anatoliy (Carlos Reig-Plaza), but he soon disappears after nightfall, leaving Marie alone to venture into her newly acquired and decrepit house. After wandering about for a while and hearing noises, she runs into her own doppelganger, who appears to be soaked through and with eyes white as sheets. Maria flees the scene but accidentally falls into the river. Later she awakens, and learns that a man by the name of Nicolai (Karel Roden) had saved her from drowning. He tells her that he is here to look for his parents, and that he is her twin brother, to which she’s reluctant to accept. Eventually the pair run into Nicolai’s doppelganger and they end up running around for a bit in the trappings of the dark and mysterious building, before unveiling the secrets surrounding the horrific events forty years prior.
Based upon a script entitled “The Bleeding Compass”, which was penned by Karim Hussain in 1999 and redrafted by director Nacho Cerdà and Richard Stanley, The Abandoned is an interesting debut feature length film, mixing a diverse amount of European talent. Its main strength comes from Jorge Macaya’s slick editing, in which he does well to inter-cut several tense moments, along with Baltasar Gallart’s production design and Xavi Giménez‘s cinematography, who nicely captures the substituted Bulgarian landscape. I can’t say I’m a particular fan of the cold, green filtered look though; it’s something that seems to have become more and more popular with directors ever since Gore Verbinski’s The Ring. It doesn’t add to the mood in any way, and only remains a constant annoyance, although I must say it isn‘t quite as bad as the aforementioned feature. Still, Giménez shoots the film remarkably well; his compositions are often wonderful and more importantly he lends the right atmosphere to its central location, which has to succeed in itself as being a major character. Likewise there are no complaints in regards to the film’s acting talent. Anastasia Hille and Karel Roden put in fine performances given the limitations of their characters. They set out to imbue their respective roles with the much required bouts of humanity they need and thus carry the entire weight of The Abandoned on their shoulders. If anything this mature casting makes a refreshing change from the tired, whiny teen actors who we would ordinarily love to see stabbed to death, and moreover the faces here are ones we don’t see on our screens all too often. Cerdà undoubtedly has a good knack of directing horror. The Abandoned would be more of the psychological variety, but not without one or two merrily gory moments which actually feel quite inventive, particularly once it passes the half way mark, whereby light and shadow (with a little CG) are used to startling effect.
It’s a good thing that it doesn’t solely hinge itself on plot mechanics, however, as this is ultimately the biggest hurdle it faces. Cerdà struggles with the overall flow of the narrative, which results in a mish-mash of ambiguity and a desire to reach a poignant conclusion. While his ultimate message is clear by the end of the film, the overall events are a bit of a mess. The whole deal with Maria and Nicolai’s father is far too obscure, whilst at the same time being 100% predictable. For a start the director sets up the bad guy in the first twenty minutes. The cast is so small that we know exactly where this particular character is going, but by the time we reach the climax we have all but ramblings about love and a circle, and if you look hard enough there are motifs and metaphors placed here and there, enforced by the house in its encircled river bed and the idea of familial security or a lack of.
Ambiguity is something which can naturally work in a horror film’s favour, or sometimes destroy it; audiences don’t necessarily need everything spelled out for them, but certainly in the case of The Abandoned the odd inconsistencies and flawed logistics scattered throughout tend to raise serious doubts and the occasional groan, thus making any attempted explanation seem a tad redundant. Cerdà, without question, stages his scenes with great skill, but more often than not they feel like they’re there purely for the sake of it. For example when the house comes to life and swallows Nicolai it’s a jolting moment, but then he just turns up later as if nothing happened, only with added sage value. From then on we realise that he’s simply been shoehorned into the film as a narrator of sorts when suddenly he decides to rally off some exposition during several quieter moments, and I can only presume he read all this shit in the basement, or simply went mad during such a gaping plot hole. One silly plot device has him tell Maria that their doppelgangers can’t kill them before midnight, because then it’s their birthday, not to mention he‘s even figured out why they‘ve been marked for death in the first place. This only leaves the viewer thinking just how on earth he would know this stuff - furthermore removing the threat of the creepy doppelgangers as they’re going to die anyway. But Nicolai isn’t always there to lend a hand and when he moves on the latter time shifts becomes equally disorienting as the pair attempt to surive in the past where the house seeemingly holds no reign. Of course this pertains to the whole paradoxical nature of the film as it blurs reality to incomprehensible levels, while relaying its message of abandoning one’s place in life, yet it’s far too incoherent at times to allow it to justify the means through ghastly apparitions and the like. It could well be that The Abandoned is a film that needs watching several times in order to pick up any nuances, but I wouldn’t bet on it as it doesn‘t feel all that subtle and i’ve a feeling that it’s trying to be cleverer than it actually is. Plus I don’t really want to watch it again any time soon.
Momentum hands us a terrific presentation. The Abandoned is afforded an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer, which has an excellent level of detail, retaining a fine grain and delivering rich and deep blacks and nice contrast levels. It’s apparent that Nacho Cerdà has deliberately played with the film’s contrast, particularly evident in the blown-out exterior shots, while the green tint goes without saying. Just about the only thing that brings this down a notch is the dreaded edge enhancement.
The English 5.1 Surround track is equally impressive, with the front and rears enveloping a haunting atmosphere with strong ambient noise, occasional rumbling bass and nicely steered effects during the tenser moments. Dialogue is clear and free from distortion.
In addition to the film’s U.S. theatrical trailer, we have a Making Of featurette, which clocks in at approximately 13 minutes. It’s of course all too brief, but it offers enough to give a feel for the film. The director discusses the concept a little and throws a few bits and pieces our way, while the three main actors talk about their specific roles, how they see the film and what their hopes are for it. We’re also taken behind the scenes of production design, with the art director mentioning the intention of making the house a character. Aside from that we get a brief look at storyboard and various location shoots.
The Abandoned is a solid effort: well acted and featuring great production values, but it’s considerably let down by a script which is simply all over the place. Had a little more thought gone into the actual storytelling process, rather than rely on a few metaphors to establish its existence, then we might have had one of the most memorable horror features of the last few years. As it stands it’s just above average, which is a shame as it was looking promising.
6 out of 10
9 out of 10
9 out of 10
3 out of 10