March 1, 2007

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The Abandoned (R)
A woman searches for her family in Russia and finds only secrets, despair and a legacy of death in The Abandoned, a sloooow ride through cheap frights to a violent finale.

Think haunted house — not Disney World haunted house but traveling carnival haunted house, with the rickety seats and the plastic monsters.

In The Abandoned, Marie (Anastasia Hille) is the world’s least enthusiastic haunted house patron. She buys her ticket, gets in the ride, realizes too late that it’s going to take much longer than she thought and seems increasingly annoyed as she waits for it to end. Marie, now an American, was originally from Russia. For reasons that make even less sense at the end of the movie than at the beginning, Marie has decided to search for family in Russia or, if not living members of her family, some vestige of their existence. That vestige turns out to be an almost comically run-down farm that any sane person would refuse to visit.

Marie, naturally, goes crashing into the woods — in the dark, of course — and loses the truck and her sense of direction and stumbles up to the ramshackle house which emits horrible screams and moans before she enters. Any good real estate agent will tell you this is not a good sign, hauntings being very hard to cover with a coat of paint. Marie chugs forward, finding that she’s not alone in the house. There are also iris-less zombie doppelgangers of her and the man she soon learns is her brother, Nicolai (Karel Roden). He has been on the farm a bit longer than Marie, so he can provide helpful exposition such as:

• They are twins.

• Yes, he sees the doppelgangers too.

• There is no way off the island (A farm on an island in rural Russia? Ah, vacation home!).

• If you hold a flashlight just right or take a walking tour of the tunnels, you might get to see a vision of Mom’s gruesome death.

Marie and Nicolai make a couple of weak attempts at escaping and at fighting off their zombie selves (though the doppelgangers just shuffle after them and stand around aimlessly, as if to pester themselves to death). The actors who play them make an even weaker attempt to give any depth to the characters. They, like their characters, simply wait. To die. For the movie to end. For the haunted house ride to creak and crawl to the exit. D

Rated R for violence/gore, disturbing images, nudity and language. Directed by Nacho Cerda and written by Cerda, Karim Hussain and Richard Stanley, The Abandoned is an hour and 36 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Loinsgate and After Dark Films.