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1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Nacho Cerdà

Cast: Anastasia Hille, Karel Roden, Valentin Ganev, Carlos Reig-Plaza

MPAA Rating:   (for violence/gore, some disturbing images, nudity and language)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 2/23/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

There's a lot of wandering in The Abandoned. As the heroine wanders around her old, rundown childhood home, the movie itself wanders, trying to find its purpose, meaning, and even, it seems, a worthwhile starting point. I cannot emphasize enough—because you probably won't believe me—that this movie is basically an hour of a woman meandering around a house, with the remaining half hour left to a short visit to a law office and an extended interactive flashback that clears up everything in such a convoluted way that it has little answers and raises lots of unnecessary questions. Reduced to its bare bones (although not much reduction is needed), the movie is a ghost story with one intriguing element and a slew of other predictable or downright confused ones. This was named an Audience Favorite at the After Dark Horrorfest, which last year played different films not released by studios across the country, and it now has a wide release. It's a really good sign to young filmmakers out there: Your movie might aim poorly for the avant-garde and not make any sense, but if it fits into a popular market, look what can happen.

It is 1966 "somewhere in Russia" (thanks, movie; it's not as if Russia is the largest country in the world or anything), and a family sitting down to supper is surprised to hear a pickup truck pulling up to their home. They're even more surprised to find a dead woman at the driver's seat and two crying babies next to her corpse. Cut ahead 40 years, and Marie (Anastasia Hille), a film producer, has just arrived in Russia. Marie has come to Russia to discover the identity of her birth parents. As she puts it to the man in charge of her file (Valentin Ganev), she was "born in Russia, raised in England, and divorced in the States."  She learns the identity of her birth mother, who died shortly after she was born, but not her father, and she is also now in possession of the old family home. A mysterious guide named Anatoliy (Carlos Reig-Plaza) takes her to the house and disappears, leaving her alone in the abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. At the house she meets her doppelganger, and the sight of the visage sends her running. She almost drowns but is rescued by another mysterious man named Nicolai (Karel Roden), who says he is her twin brother.

There are a lot of mysteries in the house that relate back to Marie and Nicolai's haunted past. There's a skeleton in the barn with a bullet-hole in the skull, a big metal door in the basement won't open, and there's also a double of Nicolai, torn and bloody, wandering around as well. The ghosts of our heroes present the movie's most interesting and genuinely creepy feature, even if it is summed up pretty cheaply by Nicolai when he states, "We are haunting ourselves."  At one point, Nicolai shoots his metaphysical clone in the leg, and the wound and bullet injure him as well, which leads to an unnecessary scene of him fixing the wound in close-up to satisfy the gore-seekers out there. Later when Marie bashes her own doppelganger in the head with the foreseeable result, you have to wonder what her learning curve is on these types of things. Despite the potential of this concept, the centerpiece of the movie is the house. We know this because there's a very, very long scene upon her arrival to it in which Marie walks around aimlessly through it. Director Nacho Cerdà should be commended for taking such lengths at establishing the house early and doing the sequence with no dialogue and minimal music, but that would imply the scene builds suspense.

Nope, this is just a dark, old house (cinematographer Xavi Giménez' lighting leaves a lot to the imagination and not in a good way), and whatever tension might have resulted is undermined by the sequence's tedious pacing. Get used to it, though, because the rest of the movie is Marie and sometimes Nicolai walking around, not saying anything of value, and trying to uncover the secret of their birth parents. One would think the reunion of a brother and sister after 41 years would be a significant deal, and while there's plenty of time for it, the script by Cerdà, Karim Hussain, and Richard Stanley doesn't care about them. They're merely tools for aimless wandering. Most of the time spent in the house is cryptic setup, but with the very few elements present, it doesn't warrant the time. The climax of the movie tries to piece together everything by literally bringing the past to life. It makes no sense, but that's fitting. The whole ending makes no sense either. First the ghosts of the past are ghosts; then they're real. The truck outside is dilapidated; then it runs. Even those intriguing doppelgangers become a dumb gimmick, especially when the ghosts of boars show up and somehow finish an unfinished job.

Trust me, I get what The Abandoned is trying to say: It's all about learning something so horrible you wish you could go back and unlearn it, and how that knowledge could destroy you. It's not that difficult, but why spend so much time bringing in useless elements that only confuse the effect of that theme? I'm sure the writers have their reasons, but it's not worth the headache of trying to analyze something so haphazardly thrown together.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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