United States. Directed by Eytan Rockaway, 2015. Starring Louisa Krause, Jason Patric, Mark Margolis. 86 minutes.
The familiar horror trope of the “Bad Place” that gets inside the minds of its neurotic visitors (or inhabitants…) and turns their fears and instabilities against them gets another spin in The Abandoned (originally entitled The Confines), the feature début of director Eytan Rockaway, who also co-wrote.
Louisa Krause stars as Julia, nicknamed “Streak,” a troubled young woman starting her first day as a night-shift security guard at an abandoned luxury apartment building. Dealing with her embittered and somewhat creepy co-worker Cooper (Lost Boys star Jason Patric) is bad enough; things become more unpleasant with the arrival of Jim (Mark Margolis, aka “Tio” Salamanca on Breaking Bad), a homeless man begging for shelter from the (not even remotely symbolic!) storm-of-the-century. But neither can compare to the horrors that wait behind a locked door sealing off a supposedly “unfinished” section of the building.
A thin line separates trope from cliché, and even the occasional cliché is forgivable if deployed cleverly or at least entertainingly. But Rockaway and co-writer Ido Fluk unpack clichés and stack them up neatly, row by row, building the entire story with them. When Cooper tells Julia not to enter the sealed-off section, you know she’s going to go there. When Julia tells Jim to stay in a room with his dog and not wander around the building, you know he’s going to leave as soon as he can. When Rockaway calls attention to Julia buttoning a uniform blouse over a tight tank top, you know that blouse is coming right back off at a seemingly random time, and will eventually get wet.
Indeed, the only part of the film that isn’t entirely predictable is its climax and ending, complete with an obligatory third-act twist that you won’t see coming because Rockaway and Fluk never bother foreshadowing it. Indeed, they so mishandle it that it renders several earlier scenes entirely nonsensical.
These constant issues and flaws frustrate to no end, because without them, the film has a lot going for it, including a fascinating backstory (inspired, apparently, by a real-life case), gorgeous sets, and breathtaking cinematography from Zach Galler. It’s easy to feel bad for the fine cast, whose talents are largely wasted on one-dimensional characters who only exist as cogs in a plot machine. Krause, a promising new(ish)comer, deserves better for her highlight reel.
Not even impressive visuals can detract from The Abandoned’s overwhelming sense of sameness. Trust me, skip this one and you won’t miss much.