Lionsgate // 2006 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 6th, 2007
Death never runs out of time.
From Lionsgate and its "Eight Films to Die For" collection comes a story of a woman who leaves for Russia to find out what happened to our parents and instead gets herself trapped in a waking nightmare. We've all been there at some point in our lives, huh?
An adopted orphan, Marie (Anastasia Hille) has long speculated about the truth behind her birth parents. Driven by curiosity, Marie heads to her birthplace, glorious mother-Russia, to trace the clues, which ultimately bring her to a mysterious old house bracketed by a large lake. Not long after Marie starts snooping around is she besieged by a creepy-ass doppelganger with black white eyes and drenched, matted-down hair.
The ghost isn't the only resident of the house. Marie's long-lost twin brother Nicolai (Karel Roden, Running Scared (2006)) has also shown up to uncover the same answers and, like Marie, he's been visited by his ghostly twin. Why the supernatural menace? It has something to do with Marie and Nicolai's loony father who has found a way to come back from the grave and further torment his kin.
An original, authentically unnerving creepfest, The Abandoned distinguishes itself as the best of the "Eight Films to Die For" I've seen and a solid entry into the overly crowded horror genre by itself. High points include a thick, disquieting atmosphere, good performances from the two leads, some nifty jump scenes and one fantastic out-of-nowhere man-eating pig sequence. A confusing story and some weird expository methods prevent the film from truly soaring, though.
I really liked the tone that director Nacho Serda generated in his film. The setting is eerie, but, interestingly, not terribly dark. Serda has opted to drown his creation in blue and gray hues, giving it a washed-out, dreamlike look that fits with the story perfectly. Since the characters -- or the viewers for that matter -- aren't entirely sure what is real and is what is not most of the time, the dream state palette Serda employs works towards upping the scare factor a few percentage points.
And this is a scary film. Surprisingly scary. While the jump scenes, fun and all (white eyeballs are a universal archetype of creepiness), are kind of cheap, what really gets the arm hairs standing up on end is the slow revelation of the story. The opening scene is a flashback that shows Marie's mother driving up to a neighbor's house and dying at the wheel of her truck, leaving her infant children with their new parents. >From whom was she escaping? And what were the circumstances? These are the questions Marie looks to answer, and are gradually rolled out during the runtime. I'm still not entirely sold on the story as a whole, but the reveal of the Big Bad and his involvement in the current f-ed up circumstances is satisfying. One sequence with Marie panning her flashlight around a bedroom, with the illumination revealing the violent actions that happened in the past, is particularly jarring. Unfortunately, the narrative momentum stuttered in the end, and as the credits rolled I was unclear of what actually happened and what the obtuse denouement meant for our heroes. I know that sounds like a potentially deal-breaking criticism, but let's be honest, most of these horror-thrillers wrap up weirdly, and I'd prefer to be left asking questions than be spoon-fed a generic finale or a nonsensical, overblown twist (*cough* rhymes with "Fly Pension" *cough*). Another nitpick: Nicolai was just a fountain of convenient exposition and sometimes seemed less like a character and more like a walking titled card.
Finally, a word about that pig scene: terrrrrrrrrrrific!
Given the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, The Abandoned looks great. The unique color schemes are vivid throughout the film and details hold up will even in the darker segments. 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital mixes for the sound. A minute making-of documentary is the only extra.
It's not a perfect exercise in horror, but this ghost tale earns a thumbs up from this jaded fanboy.
Not guilty, comrade.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Making-of Documentary