“The Abandoned” (retitled from “The Confines” in an apparent effort to find a title as generic as the movie itself) is premised on the idea of exploration—of a creepy abandoned housing complex, of a young woman’s psyche—but it could hardly be less inquisitive. Its suspense is strictly by-the-numbers, its psychology completely superficial. First-time director Eytan Rockaway has scouted an evocative location for the action, a grandiloquent Beaux-Arts building that is supposed to be some sort of abandoned upscale residential project but looks more like an old theater, but the place is squandered on dimly lit, rhythmless suspense sequences that offer nothing new or distinctive to the tired genre of haunted-house horror.
I have never understood why movies about paranormal phenomena, which should liberate a director to try a million different things, so often seem confined (heh) to the same bag of tricks. How many more times do we need to see a character walk through a dark hallway lit only by their flashlight as creepy voices chatter on the soundtrack? Is anyone really still scared by floating chairs and sad-eyed children? Maybe these ghosts could brainstorm a few novel scares once in a while.
This time around, the ghosts are pestering Streak (Louisa Krause), a young woman on her first day as a security guard at the building, and Cooper (Jason Patric), her surly, wheelchair-bound mentor. (If a twentysomething woman with no security experience and a man in a wheelchair who drinks on the job seem like an unlikely duo to guard an enormous piece of prime real estate, well, it’s just that kind of movie.) As soon as Streak begins her rounds, she starts hearing voices and seeing visions. Soon enough she will find herself in the bowels of the building confronting the building’s past and (surprise surprise) her own past as well.
For most of its runtime, “The Abandoned” is a two-hander, which might have allowed some space to explore these mismatched characters, but instead we learn little about either character that isn’t a contrivance of the screenplay. Streak has a troubled past and a daughter she is afraid of losing. Cooper is kind of a dick and also has a daughter. That’s about it as far as characterization goes. A final-act twist perhaps deepens the psychology, but it is also cheap and, frankly, lame.
“The Abandoned” is frontloaded with some thematic details about urban decay and failed development, but these threads are quickly dropped, giving way to a much more familiar theme of psychological trauma. If Rockaway had found a way to merge this idea of urban rot with the images of this beautiful deserted building, he might have had something really distinctive, a film about the horrors of economic development. But he instead traveled the well-worn path of ghosts and troubled psyches and ended up with a film as bland as its name.