Directed by Nacho Cerdà. Starring Anastasia Hille, Karel Roden, Valentin Ganev, Carlos Reig. (2006, R, 94 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 2, 2007
Arriving in U.S. theatres from way, way out of left field, Cerdà's debut feature – a Spanish/Bulgarian/UK co-production that was also co-authored by Dust Devil's Richard Stanley – comes with enough genuinely creepy Eastern European atmospherics to raise goosebumps but suffers mightily from an anemic storyline that almost immediately has nowhere to go. That's too bad, because with a tighter, more evolved and involving set of characters, this could have been a real horror show, one rooted in pity and sympathy for its two doomed protagonists instead of the macabre but muddled mess it is. After a mildly bloody prologue set in the Russian wilderness of 1966, Cerdà flash-forwards to the present with the introduction of Marie, a wispy New Yorker who arrives in Russia seeking the origins of her mysterious birth. Sent into the hinterlands by her overly felicitous solicitor, Marie manages to get lost amid the perpetual twilight of endless, whispering conifers before finally stumbling upon a ruined farmhouse where she meets up with her long-lost twin brother, Nicolai (Guillermo del Toro favorite Roden). The old homestead is, of course, haunted, but the question of who, exactly, is haunting whom, is at the narratively malleable crux of Cerdà's film. As it turns out, even Cerdà doesn't seem to know the answer. The Abandoned's everything-and-the-kitchen-knife third act ends with one of the greatest (or worst, depending on your tolerance for the vagaries of Euro-shocker plot dynamics) what-the-fuck moments since Lucio Fulci's The Beyond. Indeed, there's a good amount of Fulci in Cerdà's film, along with nods to early Sam Raimi, late-period Mario Bava (à la Shock), and Dario Argento's crazed and crane-happy camerawork. Cerdà's film, while by no means a genre classic, is extremely well shot and infused to its frequently eerie core with the sort of off-kilter, paranoiac disassociation that continues to denote and define the restless dreams of European horror cinema. It's no Dellamorte Dellamore, but neither is it Uwe Boll, a smallish favor we should all be thankful for.