The Abandoned: Limited Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Unearthed Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (22nd May 2024).
The Film

Best Film: Nacho Cerdá (nominee) - Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival, 2006

For forty years, Marie Jones (The Awakening's Anastasia Hille) has been haunted by not knowing who she really is or where she comes from until she is summoned to Russia where notary Andrei Misharin (The Fourth Kind's Valentin Ganev) informs her that she was born as Milla Kaidanovsky and her mother (Eyes of Crystal's Paraskeva Djukelova) was murdered shortly after she was born. Misharin is unable to tell her anything more abut the crime or the rest of her family other than as the only next of kin she has inherited the family farm. Hoping to find some answers, Marie travels deep into the countryside where the locals are inhospitable and the only person she can find to drive her to the farm – which is surrounded by water and only accessible by an old bridge – in gruff Anatoliy (Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt's Carlos Reig-Plaza) who similarly questions what she expects to find at a place that has not been inhabited since the crime. When the truck breaks down and Anatoliy disappears into the woods, Marie is forced to make her way on foot to the house where she is terrified by a shambling assailant that she realizes is her exact double. Running into the woods, she is nearly struck by a truck and plunges down a hillside into the water. Marie regains consciousness back in the house in the company of Nikolai (Orphan's Karel Roden) who claims that the two of them are fraternal twins and he came to the farm like herself to find answers. Marie is skeptical even as he shows her a pair of cribs engraved with their names, the site of their mother's murder, and the two of them discover a human skeleton in the barn they surmise is another member of their family. When the pair of them are attacked by their own ghastly doubles, Nikolai tells her of the ancient belief that "when you see yourself, your doppelganger, that it's time to die," and that some unnatural force has brought them there for that very purpose.

The feature film debut of Spanish director Nacho Cerdá is not only quite a departure from his lauded short film Aftermath which depicted the sexualized mutilation of a female corpse by a morgue worker, but also within the context of the filmography of studio Filmax producers Julio and Carlos Fernández whose partnership with Brian Yuzna's Fantastic Factory had initiated a new boom of internationally-viable Spanish horror films typified by Jaume Balagueró's sleeper The Nameless and the international hit Darkness as well as the Balagueró/Paco Plaza co-directed [REC] franchise – the former two picked up by Miramax/Dimension and the latter remade by Sony/Screen Gems into the less successful Quarantine and its sequel – along with Yuzna's own Beyond Re-Animator and Beneath Still Waters and a number of comparatively minor titles that nevertheless got exposure here via a deal with Trimark and later Lions Gate. The film is also atypical of the directorial output of Canadian screenwriter Karim Hussain of the arty gore underground Subconscious Cruelty and the eyeball-injecting "Vision Stains" segment of The Theatre Bizarre who is better-known these days in the genre field as an accomplished cinematographer of films like Possessor and Infinity Pool. While it would be easy to suggest that what distinguishes it from the earlier work of either Cerda or Hussain is the input of credited co-writer Richard Stanley (Hardware) – for whom Hussain would shoot the The Theatre Bizarre "Mother of Toads" segment – although it does not have his esoteric touches, and the extras explain that he actually gave the script a polish in the rush before production, became the on-set script doctor, and did rewrites in post-production to explain things in what ultimately sounds like a laborious and unrewarding experience.

This departure is intentionally so, with the film intended as a more mainstream-accessible work from an old idea which was dusted off by Hussain and Cerdá when another project developed by the pair for Filmax got up to the point of a costly teaser trailer for pre-sales before being dropped as too expensive. If the finished product, it is ultimately due on the level of the likable performances by the then-unfamiliar Hille and the usually-typecast villain Roden along with plenty of atmosphere from the tax incentive-friendly Bulgarian locations and the production value evident in its wonderfully-decrepit production design and some effective make-up effects work including the damage wrought by ravenous pigs. The film attempts to be "dreamlike" with the usual time- and space-trap "trappings" as every path leads back to the house which seems to be restoring to its past self while things that once were new are rusted out – one such item a suggestion that it never was "alive" when Marie first encountered it – and an early shot in which she is bumped by an indistinct figure as hints to a circular narrative we have seen and will see again on film, and a freeze frame before the ending unnecessarily hammers home the idea. Hille's accent fluctuates a few times, but that may be intentional as her character is Russian-born, raised in England, and "divorced in America" or that explanation might be part of the ADR lines to get around it. In the extras, Hussein reveals that he named the characters after the cast and crew of Andrei Tarkovksy's Stalker, although one wonders if the spelling of the surname "Kaidanovsky" might also have been a subtle reference to the Japanese word for ghost story "kaidan" (long romanized in the west as "kwaidan" via writer Lafcadio Hearn but the more accurate spelling/pronunciation made itself more widely-known around this period with the explosion of J-horror). While The Abandoned might not be a completely satisfying experience – and it sounds as troubled an endeavor for Cerdá with Filmax as Stanley's sophomore effort Dust Devil had been with Miramax – it was one of the better "8 Films to Die For" and at least should have more work for Cerdá.


Released to film festivals and then DVD stateside by Lions Gate as part of After Dark Horrorfest's first "8 Films to Die For" line in 2006, The Abandoned received relatively barebones DVD treatment in most territories including the U.K. and Germany apart from a two-disc collector's edition in France, the contents of which made it to that territory's recent Blu-ray – with barebones Swedish and German Blu-rays in the interim – and form a substantial part of Unearthed Films' limited edition under review. We have no information about the transfer, but presumably the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 is the same 2006 HD export of a digital intermediate as it does not look substantially different from the DVD apart from the 1080p resolution. The grading was always skewed towards greens and yellows, sometimes wildly so to convey a sense of unreality – although apparently less so than the initial "arty" grade rejected by Filmax – and the bump up betrays the flatness of some green screen effects in the driving scenes but also allows for a better assessment of the film's production design from the decrepit farmhouse to some grisly prosthetic make-up. The combination of reverse motion and digital effects hold up well technically when one takes into account the state of CGI during this period, its heavy use in other Filmax horrors (and early 2000s Spanish genre cinema in general), and the worse examples in films of the budget.


English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 stereo tracks are included, with the discrete surround track being the original. The film is in English for the most part, with incidental Russian either left untranslated or translated by other characters, and the surround track is typical of horror films of the period with active rears and loud jump scares (indeed, in the extras, the filmmakers mention the reliance for "distraction" as part of working around various holes in the shooting and editing). The ADR is well-integrated into the mix given how much of it there really is, as the extras also make note of its use to patch up exposition, and some of the raw footage elsewhere reveals that Hille's accent actually fluctuates a bit more. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.


For the most part, the disc's extras are ported over from the French edition – with English subtitles for Spanish on top of the burnt-in French subtitles (although most of the extras were in English) – but new to this edition are a trio of Zoom interviews. In "Circling Back: Nacho Cerdŕ" (49:58), the director discusses the notoriety of his short film Aftermath and getting to premiere it in English-language territories at Canada's Fantasia Festival where he met programmer Hussain and fellow guest Stanley, their attempt to develop a large-scale project for Filmax that fell through before looking back to Hussain's older screenplay "The Bleeding Compass" which became "Bloodlines" in production and then The Abandoned. He recalls the three weeks of Stanley's polishing the script in a Barcelona hotel room before production in Bulgaria as "saving" rather than refining it, and subsequent "torturous" rewriting during post-production as well as the original digital color grade that Filmax rejected. He also discusses the Bulgarian shoot as well as his early horror influences, of which Super 8 rentals of the Paul Naschy film Horror Rises from the Tomb might have been more of an influence on the white-eyed zombies than Lucio Fulci's The Beyond.

In "Circling Back: Karim Hussein" (51:32), the writer discusses the Tarkovsky influence on his screenplay, originally designing the film for a more moderate budget, the development period flying between Montreal and Barcelona to work with Cerdŕ, and the heyday of Filmax and Yuzna's partnership. He also discusses the concept of the doppelganger and how he originally envisioned them, and that the more zombified versions were Cerdŕ's input (although he also notes the demands of Filmax for qualities attractive to LionsGate). He also discusses the Stanley rewrites while also noting that as the film was shaped and reshaped through workarounds in production and editing in post that it started to take on more of the dreamlike atmosphere he intended. As a cinematographer, he does spend some time discussing the work of Xavi Giménez and the look of Filmax productions around that period, as well as the early digital intermediate process and tendencies towards cranking up the contrast – as well as the effect of that adjustment on the Avid exports sent to him on DVD as he was not able to visit the set since funding came through for his own project La belle bęte – and indeed his opinions on the film are pretty much summed up by "at least it has atmosphere."

In "Circling Back: Richard Stanley" (44:56), Stanley recalls the rewrites in the Barcelona hotel where he had John Carpenter soundtracks playing while he wrote, the unacknowledged (and perhaps coincidental) influence of the William Hope Hodgson novel "The House on the Borderland" which also included killer pigs, and being called to set to do rewrites. He also recalls that Cerdŕ had a falling out with the actor who originally played the film's third principal character so he had to write him out and work his contributions into the dialogue of the other two characters. He also recalls how the legion of flesh-eating hogs were whittled down to two and watching the crew train them to recognize human-shaped props as food. He also discusses coming back in post to insert dialogue in ADR in order to fix plot holes, as well as the need for distractions to some of them, and attributes the opening narration to his added character of Marie's daughter as a reference to Terrence Malick.

The disc also includes the "The Making of The Abandoned" (13:00) which has been on most releases, but most of the extras come from the French two-disc DVD and Blu-ray starting with "In the The Abandoned's Den" (30:00) in which Cerdŕ discusses moving from the sort of horror involving gore to the more conceptual and "distressing" style of the film, the Bulgaria shoot, and the digital tricks used in post-production.

"Nacho Cerdŕ: Facing Death" (27:48) seems to have been the genesis of the director's comments from the "Circling Back" interview about his formative horror influences – although he notes such influences in the film itself are coincidental – but he also notes Hussain's childhood influences on the script on a family farm while labeling his own thematic ruminations in the film as "mental masturbation" and suggesting any "political reading" of the film was the input of Stanley.

"The Little Secrets of Nacho Cerdŕ" (13:49) is another piece with the director looking at the original color grade, helping Hille develop her character having only been hired shortly before production – as well as directing Roden who was recommended by his storyboard artist and hired earlier on – how sound design was used to give scope to the sequence of the house restoring itself (confined visually to the kitchen due to budgetary reasons), as well as digital tricks that turned two separate shots into what looks like a single plan-séquence.

"When Buck Meets Cerdŕ: A Dialogue Between Friends" (14:11) is an interview with Cerdŕ by Stanley's and Hussain's fellow The Theatre Bizarre director Douglas Buck (Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America).

A selection of cut material includes alternate cuts (12:06) including two versions of another sequence of Marie encountering her double among others – in mushy Avid export to DVD quality – alternate endings (11:00) featuring an appearance of Marie's daughter Emily (Monica Baunova) which may either be Marie's hallucinations, Emily's dreams, or a hint that the circle was not broken despite Emily's assertion that it may be "Better not to know, better still to forget, best of all, to be abandoned." The deleted and extended scenes (6:00) mainly consists of a longer meeting between Marie with Misharin which is now intercut with her scenes at the hotel while the outtakes (10:27) include takes blown either due to dialogue gaffes or camera issues.

A promotional material section includes a photo gallery (9:33), storyboards (11:02), English, Spanish, and German versions of the film's theatrical trailer (2:26 each), French and English versions of the French theatrical trailer (1:56 each), and trailers for other Unearthed Films releases.

There is also a BD-ROM file of storyboards.


The limited edition comes with a slipcover.


While The Abandoned might not be a completely satisfying experience, it was one of the better "8 Films to Die For" and at least should have more work for Nacho Cerdá.


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