Last Fall came the 'After Dark HorrorFest', a collection of eight horror feature films without major distribution in the United States which got screened for fans of the genre on several hundred screens. Of the eight, "The Abandoned" was voted the best and now gets a wide theatrical release.
However, despite some effective atmosphere at times, this multi-European produced supernatural thriller is a tedious snoozer. Saddled with a near incomprehensible storyline, it is not only convoluted but full of plot holes and leaps of logic that seem inherit to artsy European genre fare of the type - but without the creative and twisted imagination of a Bava or Argento.
In "The Abandoned", a Russian-born American film producer named Marie (Anastasia Hille) learns she has inherited a property from her biological parents. Raised an adoptee from a very young age, all her previous futile attempts to find her parents have left her curious and so she hires a driver and goes to the derelict farm to hopefully find some clues about her heritage.
After nearly drowning she comes across Nicolai (Karel Roden), a long lost sibling also out to seek the truth. The pair are soon terrorised by two spooks who look much like them and rush to stop the apparitions - creations of the house who deemed that they should've died as children and plans to recreate the night in question they were to be murdered by their abusive father to ensure things go right this time.
What we have with "The Abandoned" is a film that tries to play as a hybrid between mildly surreal arthouse horror with some more conventional standard American ghost house thrills. Had it chosen to be one or the other it probably would've had greater success, because as is the hybrid doesn't work on either front and thus won't satisfy either audience.
Its greatest strength lies in its atmosphere. Director Nacho Cerda has resisted the temptation of all too many horror directors these days and opted for slow burn suspense rather than gory thrills or cheap twists. The choice of a remote forest island location in the middle of rural Russia, complete with mists, a rundown shack, rushing rivers, etc. is a great place to set a story.
Another well intentioned move was made by making the female lead into a 40-something woman rather than some vapid 20-something bimbo. Sadly, despite her years, the character isn't much wiser than your average slasher film chick which in many ways defeats the point. Hille tries hard but has so little to work with that she can't do much more than look tired or frightened. Roden serves as a flat plot device - not much more.
Sadly the film loses much of its good will through sheer clumsiness. With better than usual production values on display in terms of the design, cinematography, editing, and so forth it seems a real shame that the story often drops to a dead stop as characters rush out long monologues of exposition. The ultimately cliche and dull backstory isn't helpful either, evoking many better movies of the type and sadly never garnering enough of our interest to invest in these characters.
A more European (or David Lynch-ian) approach of leaving much of it unexplained would've served far better than the jumble that has been left on display. If this was the best of what was on offer at Horrorfest last year, I dread considering what would have constituted the worst.