The Abandoned (2006)
“40 years to learn the truth. 24 hours to survive it.”
Director: Nacho Cerda
Cast: Anastasia Hille, Karel Roden, Valentin Goshev
Synopsis: An adopted woman returns to her home country and the family home that she never knew and must face the mystery that lies there.
After receiving word from a notary that he has tracked down her birth parents, forty-something Marie Jones (Anastasia Hille), a former orphan living in the States, returns to Russia. The notary informs her that both parents have died, but that she has inherited the family home deep in the countryside. Marie isn’t particularly bothered about reclaiming her inheritance, but life at home is getting her down — her marriage has broken down and her teenage daughter is proving troublesome — so she decides to revisit her past. It’s a decision that will have unforeseen and horrific consequences.
The notary arranges for a driver, Anatoliy (Carlos Reig-Plaza) to take her to the remote house which nestles on an inland island surrounded by a circle of water and accessible only by a bridge. They arrive at night, and Anatoliy goes on alone by foot to ensure there are no wild animals between them and the house. When he fails to return, Marie, already spooked by Anatoliy’s taciturn attitude and an encounter with a wizened old Granny who warned her against visiting the house, panics and gets lost in the woods. Eventually, she runs blindly into a river. She awakens later to find that she has been pulled from the river by a stranger named Nicolai (Karel Roden), who claims to be her long-lost twin brother.
It’s around this point that The Abandoned starts storing up a number of mysteries, the answers to which it provides only in a cryptic fashion, relying on its audience to decipher the sometimes near-impenetrable clues it provides. It’s a tactic that separates the film from the usual entries in the horror genre, which perhaps accounts for the lukewarm reception it received upon its release. The Abandoned is more art-house than grind-house, relying on atmosphere and mystery rather than blood and guts to tell its story. The key is in its recurring theme of circularity, of the inescapable boundaries of fate which pre-ordains the course of our lives and insists on closure when defied. While it’s refreshing to find a horror movie that rises above its genre conventions, The Abandoned over-reaches itself by leaving too many plot points unexplained or, perhaps more accurately, so obtusely disclosed that they are nearly impossible to unravel.
It would be mean to criticise The Abandoned for trying something different, and attempts at providing intelligent and stimulating material are always to be encouraged, but this one ultimately needs trimming down a little. The movie’s reveal, in which an early incident is replayed from a different perspective, should provide the starting point for the film’s conclusion, but the story continues for another 15-20 minutes so that things start to feel a little too repetitive. And while repetition is a factor in the scheme of things, this protracted finale is perhaps the one area in which The Abandoned under-estimates its audience’s intelligence and perception.