The Abandoned

FEBRUARY 25, 2007


(Note: this one is more of a regular review, albeit in my own way. As usual, there are spoilers and such, but they have context for once).

For the third day in a row I went to the movies. Outside of a film festival, I can’t remember the last time I did such a thing. Usually there aren’t three movies playing I’d even want to see. But since I paid to see Ghost Rider, adding to the film’s unnecessarily high box office take, I owed it to the genre to support a real horror film, i.e. one that was rated R and would not have a bunch of kids in the audience. But since that film was The Abandoned, there was almost NO ONE in the audience. It’s opening weekend, and there were only ten people there, including my friend and I. And one dude walked out. Though I’m not sure why; up to that point the movie was pretty good. Maybe he knew better, because the last half hour was one of the most incoherent things I’ve ever seen that didn’t have David Lynch or Joe Chappelle in the credits.

The movie, I think, is about a woman named Marie who returns to Russia, which is where she was born, in order to check on a house she inherited. An opening scene reveals that forty years ago, two babies were driven to a neighbor’s house by their mother, who is bloody and dying. So she’s one of the babies. That much I figured out. Anyway, as is the norm whenever someone returns to a home, it’s haunted. But in a cool twist, the ghost/zombie thing haunting the place is actually her, or a very good stunt double. Her long lost twin brother, Nicolai, shows up, and he has his own ghost too. They discover that any injury they inflict on the ghosts will also inflict them, so they can’t just kill the ghosts. So they try to get away from the house, but they end up going in circles, sort of like Blair Witch or that one area in Final Fantasy VII (a game that’s about to celebrate its 10th birthday and I still haven’t finished it).

Now, all of this is the coherent part. THEN it gets confusing, comparatively.

Anyway, they figure out that the house is being haunted by their father, who was trying to kill them all forty years ago, so he wants to bring his whole family back so he can finish killing them, on their 42nd birthday (we know it’s their birthday because it is mentioned in a completely unsubtle and unnatural way early in the film). But to do this, he has to clean the house (?), and they have to die the same way; Marie by drowning, Nicolai by getting eaten by pigs (??), and it already all happened (???). Yes, a scene that occurs early on, when Marie brushes up against another woman, is replayed near the end of the film, only now we see the other woman is in fact her own ghost (but not the ghost that haunts the house). What?

Look the incoherency doesn’t bother me, and I am sure with another viewing or two it would make more sense. The problem is it’s not scary. Ever. There’s certainly the opportunity to be scary (dark house in the middle of nowhere, zombies of yourself, the usual strange haunted house occurrences) but every one of those opportunities is wasted. So all the movie had going for it was the story, and by the third act that story was increasingly (and needlessly) hard to follow. For example, during the aforementioned ‘clean the house’ scene: the two leads are terrified, but why? All that’s happening is the house is cleaning itself. Broken dishes are becoming whole, loose floor boards are put back, etc. What the hell is scary about that? To be scared is to feel you are in danger. But the ghost is just tidying up. It’s pretty generous of him, if anything. If I come home and my sink is cleaning itself, sweet. Thanks, ghost! I’m not gonna cower like a baby because of it.

Also the R rating is pretty much earned via profanity. There’s some nudity near the end (and even that is confusing) but it’s on a cold and deadish woman. Plus, Titanic had nudity and that was PG-13. The violence is minimal and the gore is practically non-existent, so it’s hardly an answer to recent PG-13 fare like The Messengers. Again, none of these things are necessary for a film to be good, but it certainly helps when you’re spending the rest of the time going “hmm?”

The film was originally released in theaters last November as part of the After Dark festival. I didn’t see them all (but one of those films, called Dark Ride, is one of the worst films ever made, for the record). But one I DID see was Mike Mendez’s The Gravedancers, which was a damn good film, and a lot of fun to boot. It had good performances by the leads (even Dominic Purcell seemed to be trying more than usual to look like he’s interested in what was going on), a pretty unique twist on a ghost/haunting story, and it was beautifully shot by Dave Armstrong. Why didn’t that film get the same treatment Abandoned has? It is infinitely more deserving. Oh well. That’s Lions Gate’s loss, as I am sure it would have opened better than Abandoned did (it didn’t even clear a million in its opening weekend). The point is: I urge all of you to check out Gravedancers when it comes to DVD later this spring.

All in all, Abandoned isn’t a terrible movie by any means (Abandon, with Katie Holmes, IS though. Just saying.), but it’s a highly disappointing one. It’s never scary, the story gets needlessly confusing, and it was originally released along with a much more deserving film. Supposedly Abandoned won the ‘audience award’ at the After Dark festival. As an attendee, I am curious as to where exactly we were supposed to vote for this? I never saw anything about it (as I would have made sure Dark Ride got no more than negative fourteen votes). And besides, many of the people I have talked to about Abandoned say the same things I did (except for the Abandon reference. No one mentions that movie, ever, and for good reason). So who the hell voted for it?

I should also mention that if any of you are in the LA area, I urge you to avoid the cinema inside the Beverly Center. It’s highly uncomfortable and they are the only theater in the world I have ever been to that actually enforces the ‘don’t bring outside food’ rule. The whole point of that is that they want you to buy their overpriced food and drinks. Fine. But if I am not going to buy their food or drinks, why the hell does it matter? I tried to go in with a soda I had from my lunch. I might have bought a snack to go along with it, but now you’ve pissed me off, so I definitely won’t buy anything, whether you make me throw my drink away or not. Idiots.

Speaking of snacks, the director’s name is Nacho.

What say you?


  1. By the end of this movie I sat there going,"What the hell?" I'm confused about the movie toom I didn't understand it at all, but you are right, The Gravedancers rocked! That's one of my favorite movies ever! I also really liked the Unrest.

  2. As a horror movie afficiando myself, I found The Abandoned to be the scariest horror movie I've seen in about 10 years.

    It was a classic "Bad Place" story; as in all good stories of this type, the characters are being haunted by themselves, though generally not quite so literally.

    Sometimes when a review like this pops up, I question the viewing environment, though I have no reason to do so in this case.

    I watched this movie in the utter darkness of my dedicated home theater with top-notch audio and video (96 inch screen, 40+ degree viewing angle), which I do not mention in order to brag, merely to point out that immersion is an enormously important aspect of movie watching.

    Assuming you saw this in the theater (or in an otherwise immersive environment), I guess we'll just have to chalk this one up to a difference of opinion.

    All I can say is that I was incredibly impressed with The Abandoned. Movies just don't scare me. And this one about had be crawling out of my chair.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed the abandoned as well. I consume a healthy diet of horror movies, and as a true fan I require more than just hack and slash to get me going. Little by little I had to turn the lights in my house, because I was getting freaked out and scared...a rare enough occurrence in the world of the modern horror movie.

    Usually all played out. This was a rehash of other themes but it was done so well, and the Russian setting made it even more interesting. The ending was absolutely haunting. It was a breath of fresh air in a stale industry.

  4. I think I actually cried at the end of The Abandoned.. It was a bit like having my corpse soiled..

  5. This was my favorite of the AD movies, I was completely creeped out. Maybe it was the sense that she was so far out in the Russian woods that no one would ever find her. I also thought it was well lit- normally that's a bad thing because it means that I didn't give a flip about the movie, but damn! the lighting was great.
    There was a MANN theater in Woodland Hills that used to check purses for food- they gave me crap + I refunded my ticket.

  6. Well, I feel a lot better knowing I wasn't the only one who didn't get the movie at the end. xDDD

    True, it was good, though.


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