The only film to be picked up by a major distribution studio and given a wide release of all eight that were part of the “After Dark Horror Fest”, The Abandoned doesn’t really live up to the hype. One guesses it was picked as the lesser of the eight evils, only because its impressive (comparatively) production values surpass any other film’s that was part of the Fest. Unlike Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror – an evil incarnate of a film if that can be used as a fair description – the ghosts and ghouls here actually look good enough to inspire a few scares among the audience. Also the film is not afraid to cater to the thinkers among horror fans as the script, while cliched by today’s standards, holds some worthy symbolic meanings.
Director Nacho Cerda is a horror short veteran and his experience in the genre is evident throughout the film. He believes in the concept of the main hero, or in this case heroine, discovering the evil element of the film, not the other way around. And while this is still a cliche by a very long shot, the film’s storyline is such that it makes the finding of the various monstrosities seem like an accident, which through various plot turns and devices turns out to be much much more than that.
The first act of the film, and it is a relatively short one takes place in the U.S. and involves an adopted film producer Marie (Anastasia Hille) who decides to visit Russia – her original homeland – on news of her mother’s ugly death. When she gets there she decides to find out the reason her mother was chopped up to little bits and pieces and in her search comes upon a farm that is fittingly abandoned and apparently haunted according to everyone familiar with its location, including the only person who agrees to accompany her on her pilgrimage to it. Of course, this appropriately creepy and mysterious character, disappears as soon as Marie witnesses the horrid excuse for a farm that is her final destination and yet, for all of us craving a horror film that is brave enough to have only one character in total loneliness battling whatever devilry may spring out at any moment from the conveniently designed cracks and dark places in the wall, get ready for a disappointment. Marie comes upon Nikolai (Karel Roden) who seems to be searching for the exact thing she is – the details of his past. Soon after they meet up, strange things begin to happen, including, but not limited to, apparitions of people that are strangely familiar – their own apparitions.
While seeing a ghost of yourself reenacting your inescapable death may be scarier than seeing a ‘usual’ ghost, it isn’t used to the best effect here. I guess after seeing Mark Pellington’s technical masterpiece The Mothman Prophecies, nothing in the similar vein can compare. I kept wishing for the latter film’s mirror scene to appear in some shape or form, but director Cerda is either not capable of rendering a scene like that, or is too involved with using Bulgaria’s beautiful scenery to cancel out the brutally violent images that are frequently on display. I think the last time I described a horror film as beautiful was in 2001 and the film in question was Hannibal. The Abandoned is truly pristine, almost hauntingly so, but comparing it to Ridley Scott’s intelligent gore-fest is almost unthinkable, because of Cerda’s insistence to make the film out of order.
The modern obsession of telling a story out of order can be blamed on many people, but i won’t even go into that list, I’ll just blame this film’s failings – all related to the way its told – to Nacho Cerda himself. Cerda’s film, unfortunately, is an episodic mess that sacrifices all its brilliant and symbolic imagery in order to look cool. Cerda is trying to send a message about life being akin to a circle, as the film ends the same way it begins and there are circles all over the place, along with many other fate-worshiping images and bits of connecting dialogue that all send the same message – life is not only pre-destined, everything that happens has already happened and will happen again.
In order for a film structured this way to work, a fairly good editing job is needed. The editing here by Jorge Macaya is a total hack-and-slash job that impairs the film in a grotesquely high level. It literally ruins the film and you can see all of its ideas and intelligent concepts falling over each other like rubble. But as glaring a problem as the editing is, the rest of the technical credits should be commended. DP Xavi Gimenez seems to be obsessed and a perfectionist, so every shot contains a lot of color and every angle is as provocative and artsy as they get. This type of stuff puts seemingly grayscale efforts like Saw to shame. Also worth mentioning is the slow and haunting score by Alfons Conde who in my opinion should be considered the next big thing in scoring.
Overall, The Abandoned s not without its virtues as a technical effort and a good example of thematic horror. But it fails in creating a logical and emotional film that will stay with you after the viewing. It is clear that the filmmakers did the most they could with a limited budget and it is a real pity they were brought down by horrid editing and inconsistent themes. I can’t recommend this film to filmgoers that expect a fulfilling experience at the movies, but if you want to witness moments of brilliance scattered about on a illogical canvas, you David Lynch fan you, there is no reason you shouldn’t pick this up on DVD.