Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Review: Abandoned Dead

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet
Abandoned Dead
Written and directed by Mark W. Curran
Nightwatcher Films / Pacific World Pictures / Pocket Studios / MVD VIsual
77 minutes, 2015 / 2017   

Californian rent-a-cop security guard – as in needing to feel secure – Rachel Burke (Burke’s law?) has been assigned to begrudgingly watch over the Mayfield Addiction Clinic over the Memorial Day Weekend (memorial = dead). It’s a clinic which deals with, well, addictions, and there is methadone stored there – not to mention frequent break-ins– so it stands to reason it can’t be left alone without some protection.

But, this is a genre film, so naturally things aren’t what they appear to be. They certainly don’t seem benign, as objects move, shake and appear in the shadows. As with most thriller kinds of films of this type, you are most likely looking not at the central character as she moves around, but the dark space down the hall, or the doorway on one of the sides of the corridor. Then there are the mysterious phone calls and the static that appear on the radio as a supernatural “tell” that something is about to happen. Woooooooooo, eerie, boys and girls.

The mysteriousness level is enhanced by the sharp use of stark color lights (red, blue, etc., or even the clarity of white). Most of the time, due to its use by so many other films, this visual has become kind of hackneyed, but Curran manages to make it work quite well here, showing emotion rather than just “Boo! Different lighting!” That makes me happy.

Also, this film is not just about the supernatural (or is it?), but a supernatural thriller (or is it?). See, that’s when a film becomes a thriller, making the watcher wonder. That leads me to another commonly used trope that is exploited here, which is a character (Burke) walking around a dark building with many doors, using only a flashlight (the lights go out during the story, not like CSI where they never turn the lights on in the first place…never understood that…”Look, audience, we have cool little flashlights!” But I digress…

As far as walking around the building, usually I hate these moments because they tend to last too long, turning suspense into annoyance and finally boredom. While there are a lot of scenes like that, again Curran takes the high road and tends to break it up into shorter segments, keeping the suspense high. Amusingly, the only distraction that really took me out of the moment was a scene where Burke investigates a bathroom, and the toilet seat is up. The back of my neck hairs stood up. Any male reading this that is cohabiting with a female partner will understand.

The premise is not new (not going to give it away) and I saw the central theme coming early on, though I wasn’t sure where it was going or how it would end. That helped in part to keep my grubby fingers off the fast forward button. This, actually, is a compliment to Curran’s direction and writing, to take a tried-and-true idea and jig with it in a way to keep the interest level.

Sarah Nicklin
Burke is played by multi-festival award-winning Sarah Nicklin. Now, I have to admit I love Sarah – no, not in that creepy older guy lusting after a hot younger woman, but rather I enjoy her acting skill and I have for a while, as she is a very natural talent. Yes, the role here plays towards the mostly “scared,” but that also makes the contrasts even more realistic and jutting.

While the idea of this film is similar in some ways to another film she was in (though not as the locus character) called Normal (2015), it takes a different turn than the previous one, and her character is very dissimilar than the other lead. Again, this is a good thing.

Judith O'Dea
The cameo du jour for this film is Night of the Living Dead’s (1968) Judith O’Dea, as a Doctor of the Mind (okay, psychiatrist… happy?). To be honest, I always through her acting in NOTLD was kinda wooden, even if she is one of the central characters who is supposed to be in shock, but she certainly does fine here, and I’m glad to see her working again. I would also like to congratulate Curran for not having someone say to her, at some point, “They’re coming to get you, Doctor.” Not every actor needs to have a “Woha” or “I’ll be back” that they just have to use to remind everyone (i.e., beat over the head with their ego) of their classic turns. Besides, she gets to say the film’s tagline, so that’s good enough for me.

There is no nudity in the film (though Nicklin carries the undies scenes quite well), but a nice level of gore FX is executed. Not a huge amount, but enough to make it stick out a bit more and be quite effective.

I enjoyed how this careened over a number of genres, such as slasher, doctor experimentation, supernatural, zombie, paranormal, social commentary about family dynamics, psychodrama, crime drama, and straight out horror; and yet, it doesn’t stay in any one stream long enough to overstay it’s welcome, nor pass so fast that it is ignorable.  

According to IMDB, this is Curran’s second full-length film (he directed the recording of a live stage production about Edgar Allen Poe previously). As such, it’s a work to be proud of, and there’s plenty of fodder there to grow on. I look forward to charting his path.

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