American audiences are accustomed to Hollywood movies about an American abroad who runs into Merry Mishaps of the dark kind. Perhaps that's why, for THE ABANDONED, Spanish filmmakers decided to make a movie about an American traveler too. Amazingly enough, they don't paint the American tourist in the same broad cartoonish colors that Hollywood portrays them, lo these last 25 or so years. Then again, I was intrigued to see that Spain and Russia, at least in this movie, have a better understanding of just who an American is, than their clumsy Hollywood counterparts.
The movie begins with narration, and while I usually despise opening narration, this time, in a young girl's voice, we hear the reason for a journey that isn't exposition, and would have taken far too long to show. The narration is almost lyrical, and brief, speaking over vistas of forests and mountains. It sets the tone for what is to come, without explaining why.
In short, it draws you in.
Marie (Anastasia Hille: THE WISDOM OF CROCODILES, THE HOLE), arriving from the U.S., is a film producer in search of her roots.
Sold as a Russian orphan in the 1960s, she's been forever separated from her adopted parents and, in a virtual sense, orphaned from her own daughter: the two are nearly strangers to each other - not out of dislike - but emotional distance. This is effectively communicated in a momentary phone call that speaks volumes in just a few short sentences.
Marie has spent the past few decades involved with trying to find her biological parents, an obsession that apparently ate up the time she could have been spending with her own child. There is no mention of her daughter's father.
Marie has made herself alone in the world. Uninvolved in her own child's future, Marie seeks only an imagined childhood she never had, far in the past.
In a Russian Notary's office, Marie finally comes across the papers she's always searched for, with all the information she needs. Except she doesn't speak or read Russian.
Within days she makes it to her destination. Marie is not impressed with the locals who are surely and rude. Her driver, Anatolyi (Carlos Reig: SELVA ROJA, ROMA SANTA) abandons her at her old birth home with no way to return except by foot, and Marie discovers what a dump it is that she's inherited. The interior is becoming exterior as the house slowly returns to the earth and nature. Big kudos to set designer Tzvetana Yankova. The entire environment of the house is nearly breathtaking in its decay.
Her first night in the ruin is creepsville.
The second night is worse. Then she meets a man, Nicolai (Karel Rodin: BLADE II, HELLBOY), who is also staying in the house. He claims to be her twin brother. Like her, he too was abandoned and raised by another family, only he stayed in Russia.
Unlike most ghost stories, Marie's visions of creepy things isn't limited to just her (I see ghosts, dead people, things moving widdershins!). Like most ghost stories, she may be the very ghost that haunts the house, and THE ABANDONED makes no bones about it. The original tagline for the movie is "How can you kill your own ghost?"
The thing or ghost or whatever fate that Marie is trying to escape from, looks like a dead version of Marie. Instead of attempting surprise with the idea that Marie is destined to become the ghost in the house, the writers compel us with the idea of destiny. Marie can plainly see her future before her, but does she have the power and will to change it?
Big time kudos to writers Karim Hussain (ASCENSION), Richard Stanley (HARDWARE, DUST DEVIL, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU), and writer / director Nacho Cerdà. All three men have shown a past love for Horror movies, with Nacho gaining some notoriety in his home country of Spain for his short Horror films. It must have felt like quite a coup for Filmax Internation, Spain's Horror movie studio, to gather all three men for one film. All three have also worked in documentaries, and their experience there shows in the way mood and storytelling is created in silent visuals, something director Cerdà is known for.
THE ABANDONED has everything going for it, though at times it gets a little too convoluted for its own good, seeming to squeeze out vital bits to the story. How the ghosts got so damn powerful is never explored though the question is begged.
Still, the movie is both creepy and scary. Genuinely scary: something sadly lacking in modern U.S. Horror movies.
4 Shriek Girls
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