February 27, 2007

Movie Review: The Abandoned

In recent years there has been something that has been conspicuously absent from the Hollywood horror factory. That missing element is genuine creepiness. Most of the horror films that reach our screens fall into one of two categories, first are the sanitized PG-13 rated affairs that survive on jump scares, the others fall into the so-called area of "torture porn" along the lines of Saw. It is that which makes this movie stand out, it is genuinely creepy, it makes you wonder what exactly is going to happen, and even though I haven't completely pieced the ending together, The Abandoned successfully sidesteps the current penchant for torture and over-reliance on jumps to create its atmosphere of dread.

The Abandoned is a haunted house story at its heart, and it wastes no time getting down to telling its tale of a life long fate that is about to be set right. It begins its story 40 years ago somewhere in Russia. A beat up old truck arrives at a small farmhouse, as the family patriarch approaches the truck, clutching a shotgun, he is unsure who is inside, dreading the worst. He opens the door to reveal a woman, bloody and near death, with a pair of babies on the sea next to her. Fast forward to the present day, we are introduced to Marie, am American film producer who has spent her life attempting to track down her roots, as she had been adopted as a young girl. Her search leads her to Russia, where we are left to make the simple connection that she was one of the babies in the opening scene.

Her search led her to Russia, where she was born and her mother died. Her mother's death has left her the heir to her home and surrounding land deep in the forrest. This is where her journey begins, the closer she gets to her ancestral home, the harder it journey gets as no one seems to want to go there, believing that it is haunted If only knew how close they were to the truth.

I could go on about the plot, but what fun would that be for you? This is a movie that gradually reveals itself until the big finish. Along the way, you are sucked into her world, trapped within the house with a secret.

The story concerns her past and has everything to do with that night forty years earlier. Something happened that night, and something that was supposed to happen didn't. For the next forty years, Marie is drawn to her past like a moth to a flame. Fate is a funny thing, you may be able to momentarily evade it, but it has a nasty habit of coming back around to complete its unfinished business. This business has patiently waited four decades for the opportunity to bring the circle to a close. With the return of Marie, and her reunion with brother Nikolai, the horrible events of that night so long ago are about to be played out in the endgame that was so rudely aborted.

This is one creepy movie. The rundown house, where much of the action takes place, is a living, breathing entity, intent on playing its role in keeping the siblings there. It has not been alone all these years, as the grounds are being roamed by ghostly entities, one bearing a striking resemblance to Marie, and you know what they say, when you see yourself, death is right around the corner. Will Marie be able to fend off what may be coming?

Director Nacho Cerda does a great jon of injecting a strong dose of atmosphere into the proceedings. Even within the wide 2.35:1 frame, I found myself straining to see around corners and off the edge of the frame. The film is shot in such a way as to keep you on edge as to what may behiding just around the corner, it literally had me on the edge of my seat. I found myself entranced with what was going on, from the claustophobic manner in which it was shot, the intriguing use of the doppleganger zombies, to the impressive closing set piece. Credit must also be given to the writers, Nacho Cerda, Karim Hussain, and Richard Stanley, the final story may be a tad confusing at the end, but it does offer a good take on the haunted house cliche. I was surprised to see Stanley's name, he was behind the interesting road demon film Dust Devil, fifteen years ago.

Bottomline. I went into The Abandoned with zero expectations. It arrived in theaters with little fanfare, very little advertising, and ended up delivering the goods in impressive fashion. It has its share of jumps, but doesn't lean too heavily on them, it is devoid of the pretty teenagers which always seem to litter these movies, and creates an atmosphere of fear that slowly reveals its tale of fate. This is a movie that caught me off guard and impressed me much more than I thought it would.

Highly Recommended.


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