ABANDONED movie poster | ©2022 Vertical Entertainment

ABANDONED movie poster | ©2022 Vertical Entertainment

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Emma Roberts, John Gallagher Jr., Michael Shannon
Writers: Erik Patterson & Jessica Scott
Director: Spencer Squire
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Release Date: June 17, 2022

ABANDONED is a very particular kind of haunted house story. It begins outside an isolated home at night. The porch light is on. We hear a bloodcurdling scream, a crying baby, a young woman pleading, then gunshots.

Forty years later, we see the same house in daylight, at the end of a tree-lined dirt road. We still hear a baby crying. This turns out to be little Liam, son of Sarah (Emma Roberts) and Alex Davis (John Gallagher Jr.). The family is touring the house with a realtor.

Alex is a veterinarian. Sarah was a schoolteacher, who may or may not go back to work once Liam is old enough. Alex loves the house’s timeless, antique feel. Sarah is clearly far less enthusiastic.

When asked why such a large home with such a reasonable price has been on the market for so long, the realtor reluctantly but dutifully discloses the place’s history. A young girl killed her father and her baby, then committed suicide.

Sarah nevertheless agrees to purchase the house. She wants Alex to be happy. Alex is overjoyed. Sarah is not – we learn she is suffering from severe postpartum depression.

And then Sarah starts hearing and seeing things. Given that objects get moved, broken, or disappear entirely, either she’s hallucinating, eccentric next-door neighbor Chris (Michael Shannon) is making mischief, or the place is haunted.

Director Spencer Squire and screenwriters Erik Patterson & Jessica Scott don’t play overmuch with the “what’s going on here” question. This is probably a good thing, given that ABANDONED is not set up in a way to get much psychological or scare mileage out of fakeouts.

Instead, ABANDONED aims to be a ghost story combined with a character study. The parallels between Sarah’s issues and the haunting are not exact, which is fine.

However, despite a very strong, committed performance by Roberts, what we hear, what we see, and what Sarah tells us don’t fully connect. Sarah may not feel joy in her motherhood, but she is certainly living up to her parental duties.

Which may be more than we can say for Alex. At first, we wonder whether we’re meant to see Alex as, if not malicious, at least deeply flawed. But no, neither Sarah, her psychiatrist, nor anyone else – including the filmmakers – ever ask Alex why he thinks the best thing for his deeply unhappy wife is to be left completely alone to care for an infant in an unfamiliar environment.

We also follow Alex on his veterinary rounds, which mainly serves to inform us of why he’s preoccupied. At least one local farmer doesn’t give a damn about humane techniques, which saddens Alex (and may infuriate some viewers), but doesn’t shed any light on his obtuseness at home.

There’s also a matter of the PG-13 rating. Far be it from this reviewer to encourage censorship, but when movies can still get an R for more than one use of the “F” word, it’s startling to see the depiction of the rape of a minor child skate by more lightly.

ABANDONED does work up a bit of mythological homage to THE SHINING. Again, this works well enough – the notion that individuals and specific hauntings have an affinity for one another is big enough to share. It’s just that ABANDONED doesn’t seem to quite know what to do with it in the end.

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