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February 23, 2007 |

By John Williams | Film | February 23, 2007 |

The title of this horror movie refers to its characters — a Russian brother and sister orphaned when they were only hours old by the murder of their mother — but it also cleverly refers to the script after about page three. The setup is fine, even promising: Marie Jones (Anastasia Hille, who looks like a poor man’s Amy Poehler) is now 40, living in California, and she returns to the country of her birth to investigate her past. She makes her way to a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, and from there she’s driven by a mysterious roughneck many more desolate miles to the house where she was born. By the time they get there, it’s clear that this place makes the hotel in The Shining look like an overbooked Hilton in Times Square. Marie’s driver disappears, and she’s left to take an interminable, flashlight-guided tour of the sprawling old place, well past decay after decades of neglect.

Just when it feels like nothing is ever going to pop out from behind a corner, she comes upon an alternate version of herself, this one wearing cloudy white contact lenses and looking unshowered for several months. As with so many thickheaded characters in such movies, this is apparently Marie’s first sign that maybe the clues she’s looking for about her mother aren’t worth the stench of potential dismemberment that hangs in the air.

Trying to escape, she ends up nearly drowning in a nearby river, rescued by Nikolai (Karel Roden, a homeless man’s Tim Roth), who claims to be her twin brother, drawn to the house for the same reasons. Soon, they encounter his zombie equivalent as well, significantly worse for the wear than Marie’s, shredded and bloody. When Nikolai shoots his approaching “other” in the leg, he himself suffers the same injury, which leads to this helpful speech he gives to his sister after removing the magic bullet and cauterizing the wound:

“Whatever happens to them happens to us.”

Yeah, we saw that.

“Makes it hard to kill them, doesn’t it?”

Jeez, guess so.

“We are haunting ourselves.”

OK, we get it.

And this is one of the smarter stretches of dialogue in The Abandoned, which devolves into a ridiculous string of supernatural occurrences that it doesn’t even attempt to coherently explain. All we know, through Nikolai — and with no clue as to how he knows it — is that at midnight, the long-ago night of their mother’s murder (at the hands of their father) will be recreated, and the twins will be killed, too, as they were originally meant to be.

From there, we’re treated to about seven false endings, each one making less sense than the last. The movie is safeguarded from spoilers, because spoiling it would require understanding what the hell happened.

The colossal stupidity of The Abandoned is doubly frustrating because its esthetic is lo-fi and shabby enough to make for something genuinely scary. It has none of the high sheen that ruins many among the current batch of American horror flicks, but its isolated setting and visual tone are wasted by a complete lack of story and two insufferable main characters.

At one point, sizing up their predicament, Nikolai leans back and solemnly intones, “The house wants us back.”

It can have them.

John Williams lives in Brooklyn. He’s an editor at Harper Perennial and a freelance writer. He blogs at A Special Way of Being Afraid.

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

The Abandoned / John Williams

Film | February 23, 2007 |

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