Originally released last November as part of Lionsgate and After Dark's one-weekend-only "film festival," Nacho Cerda's The Abandoned re-appears this weekend in about 1,000 multiplexes. Despite the fact that the film played at the Toronto International Film Festival, it arrives in American theaters without the benefit of press screenings, which kind of makes one wonder why Lionsgate even bothered to strike a thousand prints of the thing. (By my estimation, the After Dark flick that stood the best chance at box office success was Mike Mendez' The Gravedancers, but I can only assume the LG folks know what they're doing – or perhaps they were contractually required to give this thing a theatrical release.) Either way, the movie's sure to die a quick and unnoticed death at the box office – not because it's a terrible little ghost story (although it sure ain't great) but because it's dry, redundant and entirely bereft of cinematically salable components.

Anastasia Hille stars as Marie, a 40-some year-old woman who arrives in Russia to take ownership of a ramshackle old property that's been abandoned for about four decades. She hitches a ride with a grumpy driver, arrives at the outrageously remote location ... and then wanders around the area for about 25 minutes. Then up pops a stranger called Nikolai (Karel Roden) who claims to be her long-lost brother, and together the pair ... wander through the house for about 25 minutes. Through the magic of sketchy prologues, evasive dialogue and the always-reliable flashback gallery, we learn that Marie and Nikolai may have been orphaned infants who were taken in by a loony woman and her monster of a husband. Or maybe not. Maybe Marie and Nikolai are just ghosts trapped in an alternate reality or...


In actuality, here's how it goes down: Empty hallways are explored, drippy cellars are mined, vague apparitions are spied across cobwebbed hallways. From kitchen to yard to bedroom to garden to {flashback} to attic and then back down to the kitchen before exploring the basement... If pure gothic haunted house atmosphere is what you're looking for, albeit in only a screen-saver sort of way, then The Abandoned might hold your interest. I, however, saw the movie two hours ago and already I can feel it evaporating from my brain – despite all the creepy set design and omnipresent gloom.

It's not that it's a shoddily-constructed or low-rent affair; directed and co-written by a clearly talented guy named Nacho Cerda, The Abandoned simply suffers from the same old malady that afflicts many a haunted house tale: It's boring. Languid, predictable, repetitive and maddeningly slow in delivering the goods. (And by "goods" I don't just mean cheap shocks or indulgent gore-splatters; I mean compelling plot developments, unexpected twists, and yeah, maybe a few good jolts.) We're not even given enough time to become properly acquainted with the dull and dour Marie before we're asked to follow her through a long and irritatingly uneventful exploration of her unwanted inheritance. And once the alleged brother crops up, the flick devolves into a series of dream sequences and flashbacks that force you to wonder "Wait, did that actually happen or was it just another one of those dream-vision-memory things?"

Visually, the movie's got merit. Creepy production design and creative lighting will always net you a few bonus points, but when they're used in service of a story this dry, it's tough to throw too many accolades around. The two leads are also quite strong, particularly Ms. Hille, who has to go through a wide variety of discomforts before it's all over. But the failure boils down to story, to pacing, and to emotional investment – and The Abandoned is a fairly uninteresting story told in exceedingly spotty fashion. And since you never really given a reason to care about Marie's inner demons, mysterious history or current plight inside of a gloomy old cottage, the slick visuals lose their luster pretty quickly. This is coming from a guy who really enjoys a "slow burn" ghost story: The Abandoned is a grade-A snoozer. There's a scene towards the end in which the two main characters find it impossible to look away from a ticking clock. It pretty much summed up my exact feeling at that moment.