The past reaches out to claim its own in Spanish horror director Nacho Cerda's much-anticipated feature debut.
Two days before her 42nd birthday, movie producer Marie Jones (Anastasia Hille) is summoned to Russia by a certain Mr. Misharin (Valentin Ganev), a stranger who promises Marie something she's spent half her life searching for: information about her birth parents. Born in Russia, raised in London by an adoptive family and now a Los Angeles-based divorcee with a teenage daughter, Marie arrives hoping that Misharin holds the key to her past, whose details were buried in Soviet bureaucracy. What Misharin holds is a death certificate indicating that her mother was murdered shortly after Marie was born in 1966. He also hands Marie the deed to the family farm, a sizable property deep in the Russian countryside. Unfortunately, Misharin knows nothing of her father or whether Marie had siblings. More curious than interested in taking ownership, Marie hires a driver (Carlos Reig-Plaza) to take her to the farm known locally as "the island," because a river surrounds it. Night has already fallen by the time they reach the only bridge, and not long after crossing the driver stops his old truck and disappears, leaving Marie alone in a forest thick with trees and strange sounds. Stumbling through the dark, Marie finally reaches her birthplace, a moldering, dilapidated ruin; whatever life it once contained clearly came to sudden stop some 40 years earlier. The house may be dead, but it's not empty: After escaping what appears to be a blind, malevolent doppelganger, Marie plunges into the river and awakes to find she's been rescued by Nicolai (Karel Roden), a Russian man claiming to be her twin brother. Nicolai says he too was contacted by Misharin, and came to the farm for the very same reason as Marie: to learn the truth about what happened 42 years in the past.
Cerda is justly celebrated for two virtually silent, 30-minute shorts, the controversial necro-shocker "Aftermath" (1994) and "Genesis" (1998), a cruel but poetic twist on the Pygmalion myth. Both films demonstrate an impressive handling of texture and atmosphere, and it’s the pervasive sense of fatalism and decay that saves Cerda's debut feature from being yet another poky haunted-house chiller with too much dodgy dialogue and attenuated creeping around. By the film's downbeat climax, Cerda's dread of death and uncertainty about digging too deeply into what's better left buried have become palpable, and THE ABANDONED lingers beneath the skin as any decent horror movie should. leave a comment --Ken Fox