A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Spanish horror movie isn't for spookhouse-loving kids. While it starts out slow and relatively restrained, it ultimately builds to scenes of ghastly violence and horror, including people (and babies) drowning or fed to flesh-eating boars. There's also a lingering shot of a fully-nude woman and some language.
What's the story?
In the USSR of 1966, a truck carrying two crying babies arrives at a farmhouse. The residents find the children's mother -- bloody and dead -- in the driver's seat. Flash forward 42 years: One of the babies, Marie (Anastaisa Hille), has grown up in America. A divorced Hollywood producer, she's traveling alone into the chilly heart of Russia to claim her belated inheritance, the long-abandoned homestead deep in the forest. Practically marooned by her guide at the rotting building and isolated by treacherous rivers, Marie glimpses phantoms lurking amidst the trees and meets a flesh-and-blood man named Nikolai (Karel Roden) who claims to be her long-lost twin brother. Coincidentally, he's arrived at the haunted hovel for the same reason she has. Eventually, Marie and Nikolai meet a few zombies who look eerily familiar; meanwhile, the old house slowly regresses to its 1966 appearance -- setting the stage for something big that will happen at midnight.
Is it any good?
A buried plot twist in The Abandoned tries to startle viewers into realizing that they've been fooled for part of the story -- but there really isn't all that much story here in the first place. What plot there is seems to be rooted in universal ghost-story motifs (like the famous "crybaby bridge" urban legend) that kids in communities everywhere whisper to each other as true -- and which often contain seeds of folklore traditions about child abuse and neglect. Parents and teens will likely have a better time talking about that kind of chilling legend than watching this movie.
From time to time, horror filmmakers try to conjure up the ultimate in haunted houses (particularly strenuous efforts include The Haunted Mansion and the remake of The Haunting). This Spanish fright flick (released in English) features an especially atmospheric example: a farmhouse moldering away in the dense backwoods of Russia. Unfortunately, the plot accompanying the chilling location is tedious, downbeat, and distasteful. Both Roden and Hille are respected actors in Europe, and they try to bring the material to life, even though the movie mainly just has them creeping and sliding amid the murk, mud, and caving-in floorboards.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of horror movies. Why do people like being scared? What subgenres exist within the broad realm of "horror"? What makes something a horror film in the first place? Families can also discuss the prevalence of haunted-house legends around the world. What do you think the explanation is? Younger viewers might need an explanation of the difference between the Soviet Union's relationship with America in 1966 and that of the U.S. and Russia today.