Movies · Reviews

The Abandoned Invites You Into the Basement

By  · Published on February 18th, 2016

IFC Midnight

Location and setting are typically big contributors to a horror film’s success – an old, darkly-lit house is inherently creepier than a bright and newly-built high-rise (sorry Poltergeist 3) – and while a great setting is no guarantee of a great film it never hurts. The Abandoned (previously The Confines) takes that lesson to heart and delivers one of the year’s most effective and atmospheric haunted houses.

Streak (Louisa Krause) is a young woman trying to move on from a rough past so she can regain custody of her daughter, and moving on includes showing financial stability. She starts a new job as overnight security for an empty apartment building – construction was never finished, and the floors were never occupied – and is partnered with a grumpy, wheelchair-bound prick named Cooper (Jason Patric) who resents her youth as much as he does her very presence. Her routine rounds reveal sights and sounds that both frighten and intrigue, but as she digs deeper into the building’s history and basement it becomes clear that she may never see her daughter again.

Director Eytan Rockaway and writer Ido Fluk craft a compelling and creepy little thriller that succeeds for much of its running time at forcing viewers into a slowly-developing nightmare. Streak is a fragile character we can’t help but root for, but as the ornate architecture and endless halls envelop her escape and reunion grows more and more unlikely. It’s an effective descent, both visually and emotionally, but a risky story turn late in the film, while admirable, threatens to undue much of what came before.

The film takes place almost entirely within the confines of the abandoned building, and cinematographer Zack Galler provides a terrifically effective tour of the interior. Large, open-air spaces give way to downward-tilting tunnels and claustrophobic alcoves, and as Streak descends deeper we feel the pull of something more devilish than mere gravity. Streak uses a video head-set while on foot patrol, and the film wisely inter-cuts between the camera’s POV and more traditional shots to increase the immediacy and tension found in the shadows.

That tension grows throughout as we hear faint whispers and catch unnerving glimpses, but it also derives in part from an undeniable sadness. The building itself is an unfinished dwelling, a home that was never allowed occupants, and the two people guarding it are equally broken and alone. Cooper is damaged physically, a fact which in turn helped shape his anger, while Streak’s pains are less visible but even more of an impairment. That theme of the forsaken and forgotten builds through additional revelations, and while they would have benefited from a more finessed handling the eventual sentiment is a refreshing change of pace from typical genre film conclusions.

That lack of a delicate touch is most visible in Rockaway’s excessive use of jump scares. Some are more effective than others, but all of them are cheapened by the addition of loud sound cues. It’s an unnecessary gimmick in any film but especially one that has succeeded in creating scares though mood and atmosphere.

There are a handful of bit players here including a perfectly disturbing turn by Mark Margolis as an unstable and homeless bum up to no good, but performance-wise the film belongs to Krause and Patric. She’s shown herself capable of both exciting (King Kelly) and sedate (Ava’s Possessions) performances, but here she delivers an emotionally-harrowing turn as a young woman lost physically and mentally. Her fear is palpable, and she sells the horror as well if not better than the actual terrors do. Patric meanwhile finds the sweet spot of a jerk who’s slowly forced to reconsider his stance on both the newcomer and the events around them.

The Abandoned is guaranteed to lose some viewers in its final minutes, but even if you think it ends on a silly note there’s no denying the atmospheric and haunting quality of what comes before.

The Upside: Terrifically atmospheric locale; strong performances from Louisa Krause and Jason Patric; third act takes a welcome risk

The Downside: Heavy reliance on jump scares, especially those “enhanced” with loud sounds; ending doesn’t fully succeed

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.