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The Abandoned

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The first sign that The Abandoned, a metaphysical Spanish horror film, isn't the usual slasher-of-the-week is that its heroine isn't a doe-eyed teenager, but a middle-aged woman drawn helplessly to the past like a moth to flame. Though her age and wisdom don't necessarily prevent her from opening doors she shouldn't open, or climbing up staircases she should be climbing down, it does offer a strong hint that the film will aspire to more than a few cheap jolts. Whether its execution ultimately matches its ambitions is another matter, but at the very least, director Nacho Cerdà succeeds in pushing the haunted-house movie into an abstract realm where the past and present fold into each other. It's a difficult concept to grasp—and the film's biggest flaw may be its inability to allay much of the confusion—but it also lends a pervasive sense of doom, drawing scares from the common idiom that people can't escape their past.

Relative unknown Anastasia Hille stars as a single L.A. mother who heads off to Russia to discover her roots. Told that she's inherited a family estate deep in the woods and surrounded by a river—and by the way, she can't swim—Hille hitches a ride out to the property to get some clues about her birth mother, who was stabbed to death when Hille was an infant. Then her driver mysteriously disappears and she's left alone in the creaky old house, which she soon discovers is haunted by an apparition that looks exactly like herself, only with creepy white eyes. She also runs into Karel Roden, a mysterious man who introduces himself as her long-lost twin brother and speculates that their supernatural doppelgängers (he has one, too) are projections of how they're going to look when they die.

Cerdà and his first-rate cinematographer Xavier Giménez (Intacto, The Machinist) bring grimy texture to all the requisite haunted-house trappings, with each new space revealed only as far as Hille's flashlight can penetrate the darkness. He also provides a good rationale for why Hille and Roden can't seem to leave the property: Much as in The Blair Witch Project, where the victims can't find their way out of the woods, all directions in The Abandoned lead to the same place, as if the house had its own gravitational force. That still doesn't explain everything, especially the peculiar goings-on in the convoluted finale, where Cerdà appears to be making up the rules as he goes along. But The Abandoned is a rare horror film that moves from the real world into a kind of psychic space, and slowly suffocates its characters inside their own heads.