Film Review: The Abandoned

A young mother at the end of her psychological and financial rope takes a night-shift security gig at an uninhabited, luxury apartment building in this polished but overly familiar psychological thriller.
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Pretty, fragile Julia (Louisa Krause)–everybody calls her by her last name, Streak–has a history of psychological troubles and is in danger of losing her young daughter, Clara, for good if she doesn't straighten up and demonstrate that she's capable of being a responsible mother. Step one is getting and holding onto a job, which is why Streak is willing to take a poorly paid gig as night-shift security guard at a 30-story, luxury apartment building that was abandoned before it was even completed, a casualty of boom-and-bust real-estate fluctuations.

Julia's partner in the dark is the surly Cooper (Jason Patric), the deskman who monitors a bank of screens being fed a constant stream of real-time images from the building's eerily ornate rotundas, lobby, hallways and subterranean corridors. Julia's job is to patrol the premises every two hours and, if necessary, shoo away vagrants, junkies and would-be squatters. Probably not the ideal job for a high-strung woman whose ability to function rests largely on psychotropic meds, but beggars can't be choosers, and that goes both ways. Julia really needs a job, and the job has defeated a long string of bright-eyed employees who cut and ran after a couple of days.

Victims of the heebie-jeebies, Cooper says, while not so nicely explaining to Julia why he can't be bothered being nice to her: He just wants to keep his steady gig and has had enough of training a seemingly endless stream of newbies who think they're too good to stick around. Unfortunately for Julia, the building is haunted by more than frayed nerves and overwrought imaginations, and the more she sees of its dark shadows, the less convinced she is that Cooper, her only ally, is actually on her side.

First-time feature director Eytan Rockaway (also producer and co-author, with screenwriter Ido Funk, of the film's story) does a commendable job of ratcheting up the scary atmosphere and images–yes, the shadowy corridors and dim lights are standard genre tropes, but they're given a little twist by the decision to eschew the cliché of a collapsing, once-glorious pile in the creepy woods for an old-school urban castle that wouldn't look out of place on Manhattan's tony Central Park West. That's not quite enough to compensate for the narrative's reliance on whispery voices in the dark, video-screen jolts and ill-lit spaces, but it goes a long way to making The Abandoned–previously titled Lot 451 and The Confines–more rewarding than many similar films.

And viewers of a certain age will smile knowingly at the sequence in which Julia Googles the building's history and finds video of crusading reporter Martin Rollins (Carlos Velazquez) exposing a sordid piece of backstory. Suffice it to say that Rollins is styled to look strikingly like longtime New York City television reporter Geraldo Rivera, whose career-making coup was an exposé that dovetails neatly with the screenplay's horrors.

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