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3 reviews, 8 user ratings

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Abandoned, The (2007)
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by Todd LaPlace

"I’m not sure I’d quite die for this one, but…"
4 stars

…I might be willing to stub my toe for “The Abandoned,” and I certainly think that’s saying something. Stubbed toes hurt like hell. Originally released as one of the “8 Films to Die For,” “The Abandoned” was apparently elected the unofficial series favorite, as it’s the only one to get a wide theatrical release. I’m glad it was too, because it’s certainly one of the better horror movies I’ve seen in a long while.

“The Abandoned” comes with all the trappings of gimmicky horror schlock. Not only is it set in a desolate, decrepit house in the middle of nowhere, but that nowhere is a little island in the middle of a massive forest in seemingly the most barren region of Russia. Pair all that with the knowledge that the picture previously appeared as part of that dismal “Horror Fest: 8 Films to Die For” series last fall (a group of movies supposedly “too graphic, too disturbing and too shocking for general audiences,” which is all code for “too crappy”), and “The Abandoned” should be just another half-assed horror flick destined to die a quick theatrical death before ending up in Wal-Mart’s $4.99 bin.

But the operative word there is “should.” Against all odds, “The Abandoned” is a tense thriller that’s beautifully petrifying…right up until the end, when sadly it all falls apart. The reason why the film works so well and the reason why it so quickly turns to crap are, I believe, one and the same. The simple fact is that director Nacho Cerda is Spanish. At this point, Hollywood horror has turned into a standardized factory product. While the details are always different (which is why the high concept movies like “Final Destination” and “Saw” will always be stronger than something like “Freddy vs. Jason,” even though they aren’t necessarily better movies), the rhythms are still largely the same. Ranked on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being calm and 10 being terrifying), Hollywood pictures jump back and forth between the two extremes, most frequently when the killer or killers actually appear, whether that be Michael Myers, Leatherface or some other boogeyman (which sadly includes the actual Boogeyman, seen in “Boogeyman”). A large number of foreign horror movies skip the ratcheting and keep the movie at a consistent 5 or 6, which is less about cheap scares and more about dramatic tension, which is why the usual tricks like deserting the characters in the middle of the woods work so well. “Halloween” was set in suburbia, implying a sense of normalcy when Myers isn’t stalking the babysitters. The teens can easily go to the mall or talk on the phone or watch TV or do about a million other mundane things that are designed to be relatable to the movie audience. I highly doubt many of “The Abandoned’s” viewers will find themselves in their dead parents’ long abandoned farmhouse in a bleak foreign country, but on the unlikely chance it happens, I bet they would be pretty damn scared the entire time.

That certainly is the case for Marie (Anastasia Hille), an adopted American film producer. Adopted very young from the Cold War-torn Russia, Marie’s past is finally found shortly before her 42nd birthday and she travels to her homeland to see the old farmhouse she’s inherited. But when her driver disappears shortly before she reaches the house, it’s clearly not going to be a fun homecoming, especially when she discovers the house is haunted by a soaking-wet spirit; a silent, white-eyed copy of her. It’s also haunted by human and bloody spirit versions of Nicolai (Karel Roden), the former of which claims he came to the house after he was also told he had inherited the house, days before his 42nd birthday. I’m sure it’d be a nice little reunion for the long-lost twins except, to paraphrase Nicolai, they’ve still got to deal with the fact that they’re literally haunting themselves. An attack on ghost Nicolai results in a gunshot wound on real Nicolai’s leg. It’s lucky he didn’t aim for his ghost’s head.

For all the increasing tension provided by the ominous setting and unsettling ghosts, the film unfortunately loses all momentum in the final few moments. Much like “The Blair Witch Project” before it, the entire film is really about exploring an inhospitable environment while searching for a rational explanation for some supernatural spooks. But Cerda does the one thing that Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez so skillfully avoided and explains everything in an attempt to neatly tie the film up in a neat little bow. It would have been infinitely more effective to not know every little detail.

One of the more interesting aspects of “The Abandoned” isn’t actually in the movie, but the advertising around it. Except for those creepy posters of a cracked doll crying a single bloody tear, there wasn’t one. I honestly don’t remember seeing a single trailer for this movie, and without an advance screening for critics, I don’t remember seeing a single review either. It was perhaps the most minimal marketing campaign for a widely-released movie I’ve ever seen, and I think that’s one of the reasons the movie is so effective. The scares lie in the unknown. I only knew three things walking into this movie: One, it’s a horror movie; two, it’s set in Russia, but it was made by a Spanish director; three, the two lead characters are twins. So simply by reading this review, you know more than I did. Hopefully that knowledge doesn’t spoil the movie, since I found it to be a tense little horror flick that’s much better than its pedigree predicts.

Please note that neither dying nor stubbing one’s toe is a prerequisite for watching any of the “8 Films to Die For.” But just in case, you might want to skip the others. Just watch “The Abandoned” and pretend the rest are as good.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14899&reviewer=401
originally posted: 03/19/07 00:25:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 After Dark Horrorfest For more in the 2006 After Dark Horrorfest series, click here.

User Comments

7/17/11 Flipsider Dark and morose. Fair amount of atmosphere. More depressing than scary. 3 stars
2/17/09 gc good plot/atmosphere/cinemetography, made it feel realistic and scary 4 stars
6/04/08 tank1229 Creepy atmosphere so so story line worth watching 4 stars
11/16/07 David Pollastrini not great not terrible 3 stars
6/15/07 William Goss Despite some extra-loud portions, creepy atmosphere works wonders. 4 stars
5/21/07 porfle This is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. 4 stars
2/25/07 the wizz um, have to admit, kinda scarey, but all in all... crap! 1 stars
2/25/07 Andrew B. Bosma Any serious horror aficionados should ignore brianorndorf's hypercrical review and see it. 4 stars
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  23-Feb-2007 (R)
  DVD: 19-Jun-2007


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