Two things I loved early on about The Abadoned are how it looks — this is a gorgeous production design, smartly shot by Nacho Cerda, yet another Spanish director with a great eye — and a title card that reads “40 years later”. The movie opens with a pair of little babies showing up out of nowhere. So once the title card flashed onscreen, I knew this was going to be a movie about a forty-year-old. Now I like good looking young people as much as the next WB viewer, but you can only get so much mileage out of good looking young people. They’re dumb, they’re inexperienced, and they’re going to mope a lot about the other good looking young people. At some point, you’re going to need the cast of The Thing, or Andromeda Strain, or Jaws, or Don’t Look Now, or Burnt Offerings, or The Shining. I can only take so many Insidiouses and Amityville Horror remakes and Saws. So when the stately middle-aged stage actress Anastasia Hille showed up, The Abandoned earns major points.
So far, so good. But let’s talk for a second, horror movie. First off, please stop using that trick where someone walks across the foreground of the shot while the main character’s back is turned so that only the audience sees it. Making something scary only by virtue of camera placement is cheating.
Second off, horror movie, I will give you no more than ten minutes of the protagonist walking around a creepy locale while nothing happens. Ten minutes. That’s it. A lot of you go longer and some of you seem to consist mostly of people walking around in, like, the woods or a poorly lit house. Especially the woods. Over the course of an average horror fan’s lifetime, do you know how much footage we see of people walking around in the woods? Far too much. There’s a thin line between suspense and tedium. That line is now ten minutes long. The Abandoned very nearly goes over its limit.
But then something really freaky happens and I’m all, like, “ahhhhh!” and then Karel Roden shows up and all is well. I saw a Polish-language Western once in which Karel Roden sustains a head wound and cauterizes it with the gunpowder from his own bullets. He basically flash sears his own skull. That’s bad ass. He does something nearly that bad ass to a leg wound in The Abandoned. Dude is like the best field medic ever.
You can’t overestimate the value of some Karel Roden. Karel Roden is in exactly one scene in Orphan, and he’s not even really in it. He’s literally phoning in his scene. But he’s Karel Roden and Orphan is already a great movie by that point. But if Karel Roden had played the Tcheky Karyo part in Gravedancers, that movie would have been 45% less stupid. So The Abandoned has got that going for it. Together with Miss Hille’s gracefully carried years and Mr. Cerda’s keen eye and fantastic production design, The Abandoned turns out to be a memorable haunted house romp and very nearly the arthouse version of Evil Dead.
The Abandoned is available on DVD (Netflix link here).