For the most part, video stores are dead, save for a handful around the world (read Kate Hagen’s excellent and extensive piece for an idea). Luckily, I work at Best Video, one of the last remaining vestiges to the golden days of renting, where streaming meant perusing shelves in hope of finding the last copy of whatever your parents wouldn’t let you catch in theaters. Each and every day I stock the same old shelves so those out there looking to romanticize renting can do so, often finding myself absently surfing the horror section; a 1,000 film wall that hides some of the genres greatest (and worst) contributions.
So I decided to take on the task, a journey if you will, of combing through every single title within the horror genre at work, A to Z. This is that journey, and as the saying goes, a journey of a thousand films begins with a single scream…
Oh, and follow #AtoZhorror on Instagram and Twitter @reelbrew for every terrifying pit-stop! Enjoy!
A: The Abandoned (2006), directed by Nacho Cerda
Death Never Runs Out of Time
By the mid-2000’s, horror had become the victim to what many critics would dismiss as the “torture porn” movement, with the likes of Saw [‘04], Hostel [‘05] and overseas the films of the French New Extreme seeing a massive box-office draw. While studios such as Twisted Pictures and Lionsgate sought to profit off this rising demand for titillating bloodshed, the latter wanted to also hone in on the independent market, creating the After Dark Horrorfest, an eight film festival that runs the gamut of the genre, focusing heavily on what drives horror; the supernatural.
Opening the festival back in 2006, The Abandoned tells the tale of Marie Jones (Anastasia Hille), a Russian born orphan now living in Los Angeles as a film producer, who receives information regarding her mother, who was murdered nearly 40 years ago. After landing in Russia and being informed that her mother has left her a house on an island (think Rammstein and less Jimmy Buffet), Marie sets out to uncover any information that might lead her to discovering what really happened. Once in the house, Marie discovers her supposedly twin brother Nikolai (Karel Roden), who also received information regarding their mother. As things start to take a spooky, less welcoming tone, the two siblings must confront a past that has laid dormant, waiting.
Like with most ghost stories, there’s always a lot to unpack. Past and present merge, bringing spirits into a world inhabited by the living, generally connected by lineage or psychosis. It’s a significant piece to the backbone of the genre, often defining it for fans who take their horror in the same vein as classic ghost stories such as Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Canterville Ghost’ or Henry James’ ‘The Turn of the Screw’.
Which is exactly what makes Spanish director Nacho Cerda’s (The Trilogy of Death) first feature length film so disjointed, cramming layer after layer into a story that might endure without all the fat. Marie and her brother Nikolai roam the dilapidated house in search of clues, running into their own doppelgangers, a trope that dates as far back as Chaplin’s The Great Dictator [’40]. It’s a stylish and impacting angle, and one that carries with it a twist; their doubles are dead, acting as walking death receipts from a future that might not be so uncertain.
Except while these listless, white-eyed corpses may initially rattle your bones, Cerda seems unable to embody the horror in them. They shift here and their, rattling doors when they aren’t standing in them, yet they hardly exist outside of our interest and the characters motivation to get the hell off the island. The camera, working predominantly as a hand-held, moves in a way that advertises jump scares, which only works to diminish their reveal when they do come.
There’s almost too many skeleton’s in the closet of Marie and Nikolai’s place, which for the films nearly 100 minute run time is always within eyesight, playing into their escalating paranoia and fear. And while there’s a twisty, at times clever ghost story underneath it all, The Abandoned ultimately becomes an exhausting exercise in ghastly voyeurism in which we peer into the past and present of two people, never truly feeling their own dread and fatigue. And once past and present collide in a splatter of blood and death, all we’re left with is an ill-fitted narration that attempts to tie the films themes together, seeming to abandon one of its most important tasks; scares.
Add After Dark Horrorfest’s The Abandoned to your collection!