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The Abandoned (2006)

Lionsgate Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 6/19/2007

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/26/2007

Many authors start their careers writing short stories before moving on to novels. This gives them a chance to practice the art of creating characters and plot without having to stretch things out too far. A similar situation occurs in the world of filmmaking. Spanish director Nacho Cerda began his career by making short films, the most famous of which is 1994's Aftermath. He continued this practice up until 2003, and he's now released his feature-film debut, The Abandoned.

As The Abandoned opens, Marie Jones (Anastasia Hille) arrives in Russia. Marie, who now lives in California, knows that she was born in the Soviet Union, but knows little else about her birth or her parents. She has come at the request of an attorney, Andrei Misharin (Valentin Ganev), who claims to have information about her past. Misharin informs Marie that he has traced her background and not only has he discovered the identity of her mother, but he's learned that she's entitled to the family farm. Marie arranges for a man named Anatoliy (Carlos Reig-Plaza) to drive her to the farm. She falls asleep on the way there, and when she awakens, everything has changed. Anatoliy has disappeared, and Marie makes her way through a forest to the farmhouse. There, she find the place in ruins and begins to see strange things. Soon, she is joined by a man named Nicolai (Karel Roden), who claims to be her twin brother, and states that Misharin sent him there as well. As the night wears on, both of them see ghostly figures in the house, which is constantly changing around them. Who's Marie to believe? Is this man truly her brother and how can she escape from this nightmare?

I honestly didn't know what to expect from The Abandoned, as I knew very little about it save for the basic premise and that Cerda was involved. I've seen Aftermath, which involves a mortician who has his way with a corpse, and found it to be absolute garbage. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Cerda does fairly well with his first foray into feature-length filmmaking.

The script, which is credited to Canadian filmmaker Karim Hussain, Cerda, and Richard Stanley...wait a minute, do you mean the Richard Stanley who directed Hardware and was fired from The Island of Dr. Moreau?...yep, it's that Richard Stanley, is a mixture of several genres. At first glance, The Abandoned is a haunted house film, and in many ways, this is true. Most of the action takes place in the farmhouse, and it certainly appears to be populated by ghosts. Marie and Nicolai see many horrific visions and hear strange noises. But, there's a lot more going on here. From the outset, Cerda exploits the "stranger in a strange land" notion by placing Marie in a foreign country where she doesn't speak the language. The film doesn't harp on this very often, but when it does, it's effective, as Cerda has chosen to not use subtitles when characters speak in Russian, thus placing the viewer in Marie's shoes.

For me, the most interesting aspect of The Abandoned is that it reveals itself to be what I like to call a mindf&*k movie. Just a few minutes into the film, one gets the feeling that Marie has stepped outside of our known reality, and that feeling is justified once she reaches the farmhouse. Locked doors suddenly unlock themselves, holes in the floor disappear, and objects which had looked seemingly normal suddenly appear old and rusty. The audience is taken on a journey with Marie where reality constantly turns on itself and neither we nor Marie know what is real.

The Abandoned's story may offer some variety, but there are some problems with the film. I love the mindf&*k notion, but this film makes a big mistake in this department. In order for this concept to work, the main character, the one who is questioning reality, must have other characters to react to. Marie only has Nicolai and he may or may not be real himself. Thus, this part of the movie fails to parallel genre classics such as Jacob's Ladder or Brain Dead. Also, some elements of this part of the script are quite predictable, especially if one has seen similar film. When Marie attempts an escape from the area via row-boat, only the most ignorant of viewers will be surprised by where she finds herself. The story also seems to come in fits and starts. Even at just 98 minutes, the movie is overly long and there are moments where I got the feeling the writers were saying, "OK, now what?" The twist ending is ceratinly interesting, but Nicolai's part of the finale is quite bizarre and feels like something out of a Kubrick film.

Despite some undeniable problems, there's a lot to like about The Abandoned. The film combines many staples of the horror genre, and offers a nice wink to observant film fans, as it knows that we've seen other movies, and uses some red herrings very nicely. The movie does drag in places, but director Nacho Cerda is able to create a palpable sense of doom and the ending is quite haunting. The Abandoned is part of the After Dark Horrorfest's "8 Films to Die For". When the other movies in this series were released to DVD in March, 2007, The Abandoned got its own nation-wide theatrical release. While I feel that Wicked Little Things deserved more attention than The Abandoned, the movie is definitely worth seeing.

The Abandoned isn't left behind on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer is quite good as the image is very sharp and clear. The picture shows only trace amounts of grain and there are no defects from the source material. The movie has a very dark look, but the on-screen action is always visible. The colors are fine, if not somewhat muted. I noted some mild video noise at times, but otherwise the transfer was stable. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. However, the dynamic range is a bit off and I had to turn on the subtitles to catch everything that Nicolai was saying. The stereo effects are nicely done, but it's the surround sound and subwoofer effects which stand out on this track, as they are used throughout the film and add oomph to the story.

The lone extra on the DVD is "The Making of The Abandoned" (6 minutes), which contains comments from Cerda (which are subtitled), Hille and Roden. They talk about the story and the look of the film. We get some info on where the film was shot and there are a few behind-the-scenes glimpses.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long