All the features one would expect from a haunted house movie seem to be embedded in every scene by director Spencer Squires Abandoned. The optimistic young family looking for a home? A hell of a story about the place? Creepy neighbor? The main characters see various disturbances, which may or may not be an illusion? Everyone is present in the script by Erik Patterson and Jessica Scott.
Emma Roberts stars as Sara, who along with her husband Alex (John Gallagher Jr.) seeks respite from the city in a spacious farmhouse. We know as little about them as they know about the house, but it is clear that it is not good with them. The couple’s newborn is colic, and his incessant crying has made it difficult for Sara to get full connection. Around her wrist she wears an elastic band, and when she notices how the anxiety increases, she pulls on it to literally jump out of her thoughts. Sara and Alex soon learn pieces of the history of the house where atrocities were committed involving the children who lived there four decades earlier. She gets fixated on the details and finds remnants that further pique her interest.
Alex, a veterinarian, travels to nearby farms to work, but seems reluctant to let Sara take care of the child for extended periods of time in her disturbed state. Sara’s visions begin to escalate, and her persistence in the pursuit of the past results in neglecting the well-being of her infant son. On more than one occasion, the child is only seconds away from injury due to her negligence. To add to the mystery, the couple receives several unannounced visits from a neighbor (Michael Shannon), who knows a lot about the house and still seems to be deeply disturbed by it.
On the surface, Abandoned seems to travel similar paths as its innumerable predecessors: little Amityville Horrora touch of Evil hoteland shades of The orphanage. But the film prefers to focus on Sara’s debilitated condition rather than unmotivated leaps and bounds and remains dedicated to exploring her possible post-partum depression.
“…the couple learns pieces of the history of the housewhere atrocities were committed … “
Roberts has quietly established his bona fides in the horror genre with twists Scream 4, American horror story, The huntand the cool atmospheric The daughter of the black coat. She also works as a producer here and it’s easy to see what attracted her to the role. She is thoroughly compelling, balancing her mental fragility while coming to terms with the haunting history of her home.
The always-welcome Shannon has only a handful of scenes, but delivers just enough ambiguity to the course to span the line between psychosis and the supernatural. He gives Sara cores of information, but refrains from details, not only for her safety, but for the obvious personal scars he wears from the residence.
Abandoned breaks no new path, but Squire’s measured, thoughtful approach to the subject never uses Sara’s mental health as a stigmatizing narrative crutch. Instead, the film’s interest is in her coming to terms with her struggles as a new mother. Sound designer Connor Leander delivers many of the shocks with his effectively grinding squeaks and squeaks that feel authentic and deserved.
The resolution may seem a little too clapped, and those looking for more straightforward horror may walk away disappointed. But still, Abandoned delivers tension with a more nuanced approach to a particularly emotionally vulnerable stage in life.