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Review: In 'Abandoned' Michael Shannon Gets Ghosted

Kurt Loder on

Two things to do if you find yourself in a spooky house with the windows nailed shut, creepy weeping in the halls and a dead pig in the basement:

No. 1: Leave.

No. 2: Stay gone.

Nobody ever abides by such commonsense cautions in horror movies, of course, and thank goodness. Imagine how brief these films would be if anyone did.

"Abandoned" is a familiar exercise in the evil-house genre, rolled out onto the box office killing field where "Jurassic World: Dominion" and "Top Gun: Maverick" are currently crushing all comers. The movie will not prevail in this competition, or even walk home unassisted, probably. But it has two likable leads and a modest amount of spooky tension, and those at loose ends for entertainment in their lives might note that it starts streaming next week.

Sara and Alex Davis (Emma Roberts and John Gallagher Jr.) are a married couple with a newborn baby. When we meet them, they've left the big city and are hoping to start a new life in a woodsy farmhouse somewhere. The place they're checking out seems perfect: there's a swing in the backyard, a barn where Alex can run his veterinary practice, and a snippet of "Happy Together" rocking softly on the soundtrack. The couple is ready to spring for this spread, but Sara has one question for the real estate lady: Why has the property not found a buyer after being on the market for so long?

You'll be unsurprised to learn that there was an "incident" here some years back, in which a young woman shot and killed her own child and then her father, too. Sara waves away this grim bit of history ("We don't mind a little haunting," she says), but of course she's speaking too soon.

 

Before you can say "Uh-oh," doors have started creaking open, squadrons of flies and maggots have begun assembling, and something unpleasant has reached out from under a bed. Also unsettling is the sudden appearance of a strange neighbor, an obvious weirdo named Chris Renner. It is my considered opinion that all strange neighbors -- and maybe all weirdos -- should be played by Michael Shannon, who radiates an oddity that seems to me entirely heartfelt.

I'm happy to report that it is indeed Shannon who is on duty here, sidestepping the movie's occasional plot ambiguities and curious shot choices (this is a first film by director Spencer Squire, who is otherwise an actor), and generally managing to at least hold our attention.

It isn't easy, though, because Shannon is given little to do beyond moping and mumbling and looking very sad about something. Before long we realize what it must be. He's seen the rest of the script. And he knows that there's a supremely silly final scene coming up that is deeply, tragically un-Shannonesque. Pretty soon we're all very sad.

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Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
 

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