Written by: Nacho Cerda, Karim Hussain, and Richard Stanley
Directed by: Nacho Cerda
Starring: Anastasia Hille and Karel Roden
Reviewed by: Brett G.
In 2006, After Dark Films announced Horrorfest, an 8 film horror movie festival that would take place in select American cities in November of that year. Dubbed “Eight Films to Die For,” the festival essentially gave eight independent horror films a chance to shine in theaters. Essentially, these were selected by After Dark as the best of the best when it comes to independent horror. Naturally, I was skeptical of the flicks, as they’re essentially direct-to-video material that just happened to play in theaters for a couple of days. However, I couldn’t resist picking up the flicks when they went on sale for $5 apiece late last year, and I’m just now getting around to them.
My journey through the first batch of After Dark films ends with The Abandoned, which was selected as the "fan favorite" of the bunch and even received a wide theatrical release early last year. While none of these films has blown my mind, this knowledge did have me going in expecting something a bit more from The Abandoned, which tells the story of Marie Jones, an American film producer who has been called to Russia by a notary who claims to have found her long-lost parents (now deceased) and the land they once owned. After a brief meeting with the notary, who informs her that she has no siblings, she sets out to claim the family farm, which rests on an "island" due to being surrounded by a river. Upon approaching the house, Marie's guide gets out to make sure it's safe; however, he never returns and the truck dies, leaving Marie alone. She then heads into the house and eventually finds quite a surprise: a man, Nikolai, who claims to be her twin brother, and it soon becomes clear that their meeting is no accident, but, instead, a carefully arranged fate that is meant to rectify the mysterious events surrounding their birth.
Like most of the After Dark films, The Abandoned has a very interesting concept with some good ideas strewn in; for example, Marie and Nikolai are haunted by a couple of ghosts who resemble themselves, and the film's climax and resolution are interesting. However, the film hits a brick wall between these two events simply because there's not much for the characters to do besides encounter strange events. I think the story would be really suited for a shorter medium like an episode of The Twilight Zone or as part of a larger horror anthology film, as it just sort of meanders on without a clear course as a full length feature film. By the time I got to the resolution, I was just ready for the film to end already.
These plot issues aside, the film is pretty well made. The film's dreary, grey look suits the film well, and Cerda's direction does a good job of alternating between being appropriately understated and bombastic. The idea of being trapped out in the middle of the woods in a creepy house has been done a lot, and The Abandoned achieves this sense of isolation well by reminding us of the desolate surroundings. The two main characters are not very compelling, but I found myself not caring much for their fate because of the meandering plot. Once I got to the end, I will that the twist was effective, and the film's ending is very bleak and even horrifying.
From a horror perspective, The Abandoned is more about establishing an unsettling tone and atmosphere than using gore. This is not to say that there aren't some gory sequences, but the film is a ghost story at its core. The film's eventual villain is an interesting character with some somewhat unique motivations for his horrible actions, but I wouldn't say that the reveal is exactly earth-shattering because it is telegraphed a bit. Having seen The Abandoned, I can't say I agree with the audience's choice to name it the favorite of the bunch (my vote would have gone to Wicked Little Things or The Hamiltons), but it's certainly not the worst by a long shot. Instead, it lands somewhere firmly in the middle, making it a mediocre effort from a pretty mediocre batch of films altogether.
Once again, Lion's Gate handled the DVD distribution for The Abandoned. Like most of the other film's discs, the presentation is adequate enough, but not nearly reference material (I noticed quite a bit of edge enhancement artifacts). The 5.1 soundtrack is effective as well, and will give all of your speakers a workout, especially during the supernatural events occurring in the house. Surprisingly, this "fan favorite" does not receive many extras: there's a making-of featurette, and that's it. However, the DVD is going to get the job done for the one time you'll see the film, which is probably the only experience you'll ever need with this one. Rent it!
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