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The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest

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Adam Jahnke - Main Page

The Abandoned

The Abandoned
2006 (2007) - After Dark (Lionsgate)

I admire the idea of the After Dark Horrorfest, a miniature horror film festival that debuted last year. For one fall weekend, eight independent horror movies are given a shot at theatrical distribution. Horror fans get a chance to see movies they might not otherwise be exposed to. More importantly, some up-and-coming filmmakers are given a bigger platform than the usual direct-to-video route movies like these usually take.

I was hundreds of miles away from the nearest participating city during last year's Horrorfest but I've caught up with them on DVD. Not surprisingly, they're a mixed bag. Some, like Mike Mendez's The Gravedancers, are fun. A lot more, including the aptly-named Penny Dreadful, are every bit as lousy as any horror movie ever made. Nacho Cerdà's The Abandoned is the last of the eight to hit home video. It's also one of the highlights of the first Horrorfest.

Anastasia Hille stars as Marie, a woman born in Russia in the late 60s and raised by her adopted parents in the UK and US. She returns to Russia when she learns she's inherited land, hoping to find some answers about her birth parents. Once she arrives at the house, she quickly discovers she isn't alone. A man named Nicolai (Karel Roden) is already there, claiming to be her twin brother. Even more disturbingly, both Marie and Nicolai find themselves haunted by their own dead-eyed doppelgangers.

It would be a stretch to call The Abandoned a horror classic. There isn't a whole lot here you haven't seen before. But Cerdà handles the proceedings well, setting up a deliberate pace and a creepy atmosphere. Also, it's refreshing to see a horror movie featuring an intelligent 40-something woman as its protagonist instead of the gaggle of brain-dead teens most horror flicks are about. That coupled with its unusual setting give The Abandoned a leg up in originality. Cerdà starts things slowly but builds the tension with precision, ratcheting things up to a tense finale that doesn't disappoint.

Lionsgate's DVD gets high marks for video and audio quality, although the extras are the least substantial of the eight Horrorfest titles. All you get is a brief "making-of" featurette that's only marginally more interesting than your standard promotional puffery. It's a shame, since the behind-the-scenes footage glimpsed here suggests Cerdà is a serious and committed filmmaker whose working methods are worth exploring in more depth.

Haunted house movies are tough to pull off. When they work, you can get a classic like 1963's The Haunting. When they don't, you get laughable junk like 1999's The Haunting. Nacho Cerdà's The Abandoned works, maybe not as well as The Haunting or The Shining but well enough. At its best, it's a dark, fun ride that provides all the scares you'd want from a haunted house.

Film Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/D

Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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