Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Eytan Rockaway
Writer: Ido Fluk
Producer: Mark Landry, Carlos Velazquez
Stars: Louisa Krause, Jason Patric, Mark Margolis, Ezra Knight, Jim Murtaugh, Lou Carbonneau
A troubled young woman working as a nighttime security guard discovers a terrifying connection between an abandoned building and a haunted past.
NOTE: "The Abandoned" was previously titled "The Confines."
For Julia Streak, a graveyard shift gig may be her last chance at redemption. Unspecified skeletons in Julia’s closet have earned the troubled nursing student a prescription for antipsychotics and a threat that her daughter might go away for good if she cannot straighten out. So it is that Streak finds her nightlife temporarily repurposed as a rookie security guard on a two-person patrol team tasked with ensuring an abandoned building of behemoth proportions remains unoccupied.
While Streak makes her rounds, charmingly contemptible Cooper keeps an eye on the cameras in his comfy surveillance suite. Once intended for servicing luxury lifestyles, the unfinished structure they steward now rivals The Bramford as New York’s most ominously imposing housing complex. Whether the whispered voices are coming from her head or from cobwebbed shadows, curiosity compels Streak to spelunk the cavernous catacombs beneath the building. What she discovers in those depths disturbs a sinister secret that quickly turns her job’s first night into a nightmare for her and Cooper both.
For his directorial debut, Eytan Rockaway sticks to a template of tried-and-true tactics to make a competently crafted slow-creep chiller, albeit one that would benefit from a more original edge. While the atmosphere is thick with supernatural suspense, “The Abandoned” does not include a single fright that is unaccompanied by an audio-spiking “boo!” to ensure no one misses the jump cue. Such moments do their job of delivering rubber mallets to the knee, but anyone eager for a heartier swig of horror will thirst for more substance to the scares.
There is some substance to the story, however. Rockaway’s movie is a metaphor for how humans confront imperfections by imprisoning themselves within skewed self-perceptions. To more literally illustrate that idea, Ido Fluk’s script cribs from the real-life horror story of Staten Island’s Willowbrook State School, going so far as to use what looks like actual footage from Geraldo Rivera’s infamous 1972 exposé. Ghosts in room corners and bloody reflections in mirrors only hint at the cruel mystery Streak and Cooper have on their hands, which runs deeper still when they uncover unexpected personal connections to the fearsome facility’s shamefully haunted history.
Before arriving at its twist, “The Abandoned” has to cruise through contrivances laying overly familiar foundations. Act one features the kind of information-heavy dialogue existing for exposition alone, including lines like “this is your last chance or they’re going to take (your daughter) away” and “we lose electricity from time to time” to telegraph an inevitable power outage timed at a conveniently climactic moment. Realizing that its primarily two-person narrative needs someone to suffer who isn’t a lead, Mark Margolis is added as a mumbling derelict whose only real plot purpose is to be killed, a fact highlighted by the final pre-credits shot of the insignificant part he actually plays in the psychodrama powering the mystery.
As beleaguered by typical terror tropes as “The Abandoned” is, the film stays buoyed by captivating co-starring performances. “Ava’s Possessions” (review here) actress Louisa Krause builds a street smart sheen on top of fractured emotional fragility, turning an initially simply-sketched stereotype into an accessibly sympathetic heroine. Without Jason Patric as the other anchor, Cooper’s uneasy sleaze would be off-putting and outdated as a misogynist not worth an attachment. Patric’s presence has a casual charisma that makes Cooper unlikely likable as more misunderstood than miscreant. Lose either end of the Krause-Patric battery and “The Abandoned” would never hold its charge.
The secret behind the story has trouble retroactively making all previous puzzle pieces fit snugly. Once “The Abandoned” pulls back the curtain on its “ta-da!” reveal, look back at Cooper’s unwanted sexual advances on Streak to see another level of disturbing for an example. Yet credit is deserved for at least making a clever attempt at instilling intrigue, regardless of how late it arrives.
No letter addressed to mom will ever mention “The Abandoned,” though it is hard to find fault with a first-time genre filmmaker keeping ambitions achievable and meeting the mark, even if no molds are broken in the process. “The Abandoned” lands as an above-average thriller whose peaks of pitched performances and artificially effective jolts are as high as its straightforward scares and standard story valleys are low.
Review Score: 65