Directed by Nacho Cerdo
Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Without a doubt the highlight of the 2006 After Dark HorrorFest (DVD boxset review here) was Nacho Cerda’s atmospheric tale of familial love and horror, The Abandoned. Not only that, but it was also one of my picks for the best five films of last year.
The Abandoned tells the tale of an American woman, Marie (Hille), who is trying to come to terms with her unclear past by searching for information about her parents following notification that she has inherited her ancestral home. She has come to Russia to investigate the property and hopefully learn more about her background. The man who takes Marie to her destination is peculiar enough on his own account, but once he drops her off, that’s when the real creepiness begins. Marie begins looking around the grimy, dilapidated structure and runs smack-dab into … herself! Or rather, a doppelganger of herself that looks as if it’s been dead for years.
Terrified, she runs out of the house and falls into the murky water that traverses the farm. She is rescued by a man she’s never seen before who claims to be her long-lost twin brother, Nicolai (Roden), and jointly they begin piecing events together and unraveling the mystery of their lives. It may sound like a formulaic ghost story scenario, but in the able hands of Cerda and his dream team of Hille and Roden, it is anything but.
What it is, is a slow and steady portrayal of the awfulness that people do to one another. It is near flawlessly acted and beautifully framed and filmed. The Russian setting adds a somber tone and unfamiliar surroundings, increasing the tension toward the gripping climax. There is no happy Hollywood ending here. Instead we have one of finest damn ghost stories ever made, and to reveal anything more about it would be a disservice to our readers. You owe it to yourselves to discover the magic and the beauty of The Abandoned all on your own.
And speaking of the words “reveal” and “discover,” let me take this opportunity to go on record as saying that no theatrical trailer in recent memory has been more of an insult to moviegoers than the one released for The Abandoned. In mere minutes it manages to spoil most of the film’s major revelations. I was fuming the first time I saw it! Thank god I had already seen the movie beforehand during HorrorFest; otherwise, I would have had to murder somebody. I’m sure plenty of other people weren’t so lucky, however, and to them I say, “I feel your pain.” When will the studios learn? Apparently never.
Take, for instance, the extras that are included on the DVD. Other than trailers for the other seven HorrorFest films and a cheesy but oddly amusing promo for the upcoming HorrorFest 2, there’s a grand total of one special feature: a 5-minute 45-second making-of featurette that is nothing more than a few quick interviews with Hille, Roden, and Cerda in which they all too briefly touch upon the script, the characters of Marie and Nicolai, the Bulgarian locations that stood in for mother Russia, and the concept of twins.
Interestingly, Cerdo spoke in English to his actors while filming The Abandoned, but his interview is in Spanish. He explains how the farm was a character unto itself and describes how the camera work helped express the “full circle” nature of the narrative. And … that’s it! Hille and Roden are hardly on screen long enough for us to form any opinion of them other than to see how much affection they have for the film. Thankfully we aren’t subjected to the godawful trailer mentioned previously, but for a film of this quality to be so short-changed in the extras department really is a travesty. Did I already mention wanting to murder someone?
Ironically enough, this is probably one of my shortest reviews, and it’s for one of my most favorite films ever. But honestly, The Abandoned is the type of film that stands on its own merits and must be seen to be appreciated; no amount of praise for me could do it justice. I know some people who claim it bored them, but they are few and far between. I can’t imagine any real film lover who wouldn’t enjoy it on at least a technical level. And for those who dig deeper and are able to form a bond with the characters, I guarantee an amazing ride through the peaks and valleys of human emotion that won’t soon be forgotten.
“The Making of The Abandoned” Featurette
4 1/2 out of 5
1/2 out of 5
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