Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Abandoned

2006
Dir. Nacho Cerdà

This deliciously dark and broodingly stylish horror follows the sombre journey of film producer Marie Jones (the beautifully haggard and weary looking Anatasia Hille) as she chain smokes her way to bleakest Russia in search of her biological parents. This being a moody horror film though, things don’t pan out as she hopes and she ends up spiralling into an abstract nightmare of spooky, bloodied doppelgangers, haunted houses, man-eating pigs, domestic abuse and creepy siblings.

Rather low on plot but high in haunting atmospherics, The Abandoned is another production from Fantastic Factory sibling, Fantastic Discovery: a Spanish Hammer House of Horror-type company specialising in moody and subdued horror flicks such as Darkness and The Nameless. Their house style seems to consist of highly atmospheric and lushly shot films that have somewhat meandering and loose plots. That’s a nice way of saying that they are often all style over substance. But what style!

An intriguing and unsettling prologue sets the scene: a terrified and mutilated woman gives birth to twins moments before she dies, leaving her offspring in the care of her neighbours.

40 years later Marie discovers that she has inherited a decrepit farm house in deepest, darkest Russia. She sees this as an opportunity to seek out her roots and do a little soul searching. A sinister notary directs her to the property and Marie soon hitches a lift with a creepy trucker who promptly disappears as soon as they gain entry to the island where the house lies. Oh yes. Did I forget to mention? Yes, the house lies on an island. In the middle of a forest. Marie better stock up on those cigarettes, this place seems a touch remote… Events are plunged into more complications when Marie is cut off EVEN FURTHER from civilisation, by the collapse of a creaky old bridge that probably violated many a health and safety rule anyway. To make matters worse, Marie can’t swim. So far, so ‘ok we get the picture – she’s isolated.’
Director Cerdà builds tension nicely and it isn’t long before Marie catches a glimpse of a spectral woman who looks awfully familiar. Taking a tumble into the river, Marie wakes up inside the house and is confronted by a man who claims to be her long lost twin brother, Nicolai (Karel Roden).
This is where things start to get really engrossing and nightmarishly illogical. And then just very repetitive.



Initially much chilliness is elicited from the reoccurring appearances of the two doppelgangers: all white-eyed and mutilated, just standing in the corners of the frame, but soon they become too familiar. They sort of just shuffle about in a daze with their arms outstretched until Marie and Nicolai realise that they are doomed to suffer the same fate as their doppelgangers (without giving too much away – one of these fates involves the previously mentioned man-eating pigs). This is when the film becomes a sort of more mature version of Final Destination – not a sentence I ever thought I’d write. Issues of fate and destiny ripple to the dark surface and our long lost siblings realise that they have been guided here by greater forces: to die, as they should have done when they were infants.

The meandering and loose plot unravels further into overtly nightmarish and feverish terrain as the film progresses. One is unable to shake the feeling that ‘something bad’ is going to happen. However, the intrigue is somewhat spoiled by the films overabundance of flashy visuals and an obviously over-caffeinated editor. The mood of dread and pessimism continues to linger, but the viewer is just bombarded with rapid cuts to ‘creepy’ images within the house and the surrounding forest. This editing style is intrusive, to say the very least and the film may have benefited from longer, lingering shots to enable us to take everything in and be slowly emerged into the moody and dread-saturated story. While it could be argued that the fragmented narrative and snappy editing serve to highlight the confusion of our protagonists, I think that might be pushing it. Just a touch.


There are a number of technically stunning moments however, that do not actually detract from the moodiness. There is an extended reverse-motion scene towards the end of the film, when the house reverts back to how it looked in 1966, when Marie and Nicolai were youngsters. When Marie shakily explores the house with a flashlight, she wanders into a gloomy room and as she pans the torch around it’s light fleetingly reveals the violent actions that took place in that room. While this indeed looks cool, it doesn’t detract from the film as it is subtle enough to garner chills.


The film also manages to evoke such a feeling of loneliness and sadness amidst all the nastiness. It is a film about lost souls searching desperately for their roots, for something to call home and for belongingness. Instead they find out that their lives have been lived on borrowed time and that time is now up. Abandoned by their birth parents and now even by their own children, they seem to have always been destined to be alone. Yep. The Abandoned is as humorless as it sounds, but it is still a subdued and abstract horror flick for those who like their scares with a touch of pathos. And flashy editing.

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