In this production, storytelling and character development are Abandoned

The Abandoned

on February 23, 2007 by Jay Antani
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Disembodied voices. The wailing of ghostly children. Dark, dilapidated spaces. A forbidding forest cloaked under an evil spell. Mysterious visitors. Zombies. Director Nacho Cerda makes ample use of all these horror-movie tropes in The Abandoned, about a family's murderous past. If only his storytelling and filmmaking techniques were on par with his compelling subject matter, The Abandoned might have been a horror movie worth screaming about. Watching it, it's clear that Cerda has made a study of Night of the Living Dead, The Shining and The Blair Witch Project in designing his own freak-house movie: He knows which buttons to press and which responses to tap. The problem is that he presses the buttons too hard and too haphazardly.

For American audiences it's the Spanish production's setting — the wilds of Russia — that pulls us in as Marie (Anastasia Hille), a jaded woman living in the States, travels to her homeland to claim her parents' farmhouse. While she was still an infant, her parents died violently, and ever since she's tried in vain to seek out clues as to her parentage. Going back to the farm where her parents once lived, now abandoned and in a ridiculous state of disrepair, Marie hopes for answers. The home is so infested with supernatural funk, it isn't long before Marie comes upon the picture's central hook — that her parents' murder was really part of her father's plans to slaughter the whole family; the children were spared thanks to her mother's shotgun-aided intervention. And Marie isn't alone, for ferreting around the property too is her long-lost brother Nikolai (Karel Roden). They spend much of the film fending off zombies — their doppelgangers, who appear as Marie and Nikolai are fated to upon their deaths. Nikolai pooh-poohs any attempts at escape because their summoning to the house represents their father's preternatural will to finish what he started.

That The Abandoned, finally, is a fatalistic horror movie is a major strike against it. For horror to engage us, we must feel the characters have a reasonable shot at vanquishing the monsters chasing them. But that philosophical gaff would be forgivable if Cerda and company's script was not so muddled, even willfully so. For lack of narrative clarity, we find ourselves too preoccupied with navigating the script's obfuscations and logic holes to play along with its blood-soaked descent into hell, including third-act cameos by hogs that are starved for man flesh. An occasional fright aside — and, to be fair, there are a couple of sure-bet doozies — Cerda too often falls prey to bargain-basement shock tactics, designed to create artificial intrigue and unmotivated suspense. The script's general mediocrity casts a pall over its actors, too, with Hille, jaw set and brows knitted, unable to get through her dramatic scenes without looking bored or confused, and Roden relying on a one-two shtick of looking glum and speaking in harsh, constipated whispers. The Abandoned 's stilted acting, though, is not so much at issue — and could itself be a product of the picture's wretched scene craft and disregard for character development — so much as its end-to-end inability to tell its tale cleanly and well. Distributor: AfterDark
Cast: Anastasia Hille, Karel Roden, Valentin Ganev, Paraskeva Kjukelova and Carlos Reig-Plaza
Director: Nacho Cerda
Screenwriters: Karim Hussain, Nacho Cerda and Richard Stanley
Producers: Carlos Fernandez and Julio Fernandez
Genre: Horror
Rating: R for violence/gore, some disturbing images, nudity and language
Running time: 94 min.
Release date: February 23, 2007

Tags: AfterDark Cast: Anastasia Hille, Karel Roden, Valentin Ganev, Paraskeva Kjukelova and Carlos Reig-Plaza Director: Nacho Cerda Screenwriters: Karim Hussain, Nacho Cerda and Richard Stanley Producers: Carlos Fernandez and Julio Fernandez Genre: Horror fatalistic, suspense, intervention, shotgun, family, murder
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