Review: ‘Abandoned’ (2022), starring Emma Roberts, John Gallagher Jr. and Michael Shannon

July 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

John Gallagher Jr., Emma Roberts and Marie May in “Abandoned” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Abandoned” (2022)

Directed by Spencer Squire

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional small town of Duboisville, North Carolina, the horror film “Abandoned” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A husband and a wife move into an isolated house that was abandoned for years, and then sinister things starts to happen. 

Culture Audience: “Abandoned” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Emma Roberts and to viewers who don’t mind watching shoddily made and monotonous horror movies.

Michael Shannon in “Abandoned” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Abandoned” is how to describe any hope that viewers might have that this dull and idiotic horror flick will be scary or interesting. It’s the type of derivative haunted house movie that’s just recycled trash. The terrible ending of “Abandoned” is just one of many examples of how this creatively bankrupt dud fails at even ripping off good horror movies.

Directed by Spencer Squire, “Abandoned” is so bad, it looks like the stars of the movie don’t really want to be there. Erik Patterson and Jessica Scott co-wrote the atrocious “Abandoned” screenplay, which tepidly regurgitates over-used plot devices that have been in dozens of movies about haunted houses.

There’s the family moving into a house that has a sinister history, but the family doesn’t know or doesn’t care. The house is usually in an isolated area. And there’s usually at least one young child in the house, in order for viewers to be more alarmed that any evil spirits lurking around could harm the child or children.

All of these clichés on their own or together don’t necessarily mean that a movie is going to be horrible. It’s when a movie does nothing compelling with these clichés that the filmmaking becomes lazy and irritating. “Abandoned” is an example of what not to do when making a movie about a haunted house.

“Abandoned” opens with an exterior scene of an isolated farmhouse in the fictional small town of Duboisville, North Carolina. (The movie was actually filmed in Smithfield, North Carolina.) An unseen young female can be heard screaming in the house: “You promised me I could keep one!” And then, gunshots are heard.

Forty years later, married couple Sara Davis (played by Emma Roberts) and Alex Davis (played by John Gallagher Jr.) are being given a tour of the house by a real-estate agent named Cindy (played by Kate Arrington), who is nervously eager to make this sale. Sara and Alex have brought their infant son Liam (played by Marie May) with them. Liam seems to get agitated as soon as they go inside the house, and he begins crying. Get used to hearing a baby shrieking and crying, because this movie overloads on these sound effects.

Of course, viewers can easily deduce from the opening scene that this house’s history includes at least one brutal murder. Unlike other haunted house movies where the new residents didn’t bother to get that background information, “Abandoned” has the house buyers getting that information before they purchase the house. Predictably, the house is being sold at a “too good to be true” bargain, but the house has been on the market for years.

Sara asks Cindy why the house has been for sale for such a long period of time. Alex quickly says, “I don’t want to know.” Sara responds in an insistent tone, “I want to know.” Cindy then reluctantly tells Sara and Alex that years ago, a teenager named Hannah Solomon shot her infant brother, her widowed father and herself in the house.

Cindy also hands Sara a legal-sized envelope with all the details. Later, when Sara opens the envelope, she sees news clippings about the killings and police photos of the dead bodies. How morbid. What kind of real-estate agent gives this gruesome file to a house buyer? Only a weird real-estate agent in a dumb horror movie like “Abandoned.”

Sara has this nonchalant reaction when stating that she still wants to buy the house: “We’ll take it. You know, I don’t mind a little haunting. Besides, it’s all in the past. We’re focused on the future.” Who talks like that? Only stupid house buyers in a terrible horror movie like “Abandoned.”

Alex is a veterinarian who plans to use the barn on the property as his veterinary clinic. However, the barn doesn’t have electricity. Alex expects farmers to be his main clients. However, the property is at least a one-hour drive away from the nearest farm. And so, with no electricity yet for his would-be veterinary clinic, and his potential clients living so far away, Alex has already set up major obstacles to get his veterinarian business started in this home.

Meanwhile, it’s soon revealed that Alex and Sara are moving out of an unnamed city to a rural area because Sara has been battling depression, and they want a calmer environment for her. Because the most logical place to go for more peace and quiet is a house that you think might be haunted. Who makes moronic decisions like this? Only the targets who put themselves in harm’s way in a mindless horror movie like “Abandoned.”

Soon after moving into the house, Sara notices that Liam refuses to breastfeed. And so, expect to see a lot of tedious whining from Sara about how she doesn’t like it that she has to bottle-feed milk to Liam. There are also time-wasting scenes of Alex visiting the nearest farmer to try to get some work for Alex’s fledgling veterinary business.

Sara likes to snap a rubber band that she wears around her wrist. Don’t expect the movie to explain why she has this odd habit. There’s a vague mention that Sara was getting medically treated for her depression. However, she stopped taking her medication because she was breastfeeding Liam. And now, Liam refuses to breastfeed. Sara still doesn’t want to take the medication in case Liam will start breastfeeding again.

But wait: “Abandoned” isn’t quite done using up all the over-used haunted house clichés. There’s also the creepy and secretive person who just shows up in the lives of the house’s new residents. In the case of “Abandoned,” it’s Chris Renner (played by Michael Shannon), a neighbor who wants people to call him Renner. And the way that Renner shows up is very rude and stalker-ish.

When Sara is in an upstairs bedroom, she turns around to find Renner in the room. He’s holding a case of beer as a housewarming gift, as if it’s perfectly normal to walk into a stranger’s home uninvited. During this conversation, where Sara doesn’t seem bothered at all that a stranger came into her house uninvited, Renner says that he knew the Solomon family that was killed in the murder-suicide. He also mentions that Sara looks like Hannah Solomon.

It isn’t long before Sara starts having nightmares, none of which looks very original or horrifying. In one of the nightmares, she’s surrounded by a swarm of flies. When she tells Alex about these nightmares that seem real to her, it just leads to yet another horror movie stereotype: the woman who is not believed and is then labeled as mentally ill.

Alex thinks that Sara’s depression is the reason for everything bad happening in their lives. And irresponsibly, he believes the depression will just go away because he thinks it’s post-partum depression that will disappear when Liam gets older. For someone who has a medical degree, Alex is certainly a dimwitted doctor.

Sara confesses to Alex how she feels about parenthood: “I thought it would be the best thing that would ever happen to me. It’s not.” Sara says of Liam: “I look at him, and I feel so uncomfortable, like he’s an intruder or something.” Alex’s response is the worst “in denial” medical advice ever when he tells Sara: “That’s just the depression. It’s not you. It’ll go away.”

Eventually, secrets are revealed about the house and the Solomon family. These secrets are not surprising at all and are foreshadowed very sloppily in “Abandoned.” In addition to having mediocre-to-bad performances from all of the cast members who mostly play witless characters, “Abandoned” is extremely lethargic and fails to deliver any truly terrifying scenes. Simply put: At any point in watching “Abandoned,” viewers are more likely to fall asleep in their seats rather than be at the edge of their seats.

Vertical Entertainment released “Abandoned” in select U.S. cinemas on June 17, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on June 24, 2022.

Review: ‘The Hunt,’ starring Betty Gilpin and Hilary Swank

March 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Betty Gilpin in “The Hunt” (Photo by Patti Perret/Universal Pictures)

“The Hunt”

Directed by Craig Zobel

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in a remote part of Croatia, which is disguised as the United States, the satirical horror film “The Hunt” has a predominantly white cast of characters portraying wealthy, middle-class and working-class people.

Culture Clash: Wealthy liberal elitists kidnap, hunt and kill non-wealthy conservatives who believe in conspiracy theories.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to people who like horror movies to have an underlying social message, but “The Hunt” doesn’t live up to its controversial hype and is just another mediocre violent movie with a high body count.

Vince Pisani, Hilary Swank, Teri Wyble and Hannah Alline in “The Hunt” (Photo by Patti Perret/Universal Pictures)

The irony about the controversy that postponed the release of the horror flick “The Hunt” is that the movie is a scathing commentary about wanting to permanently silence people, based on assumptions about certain people’s intentions. That’s exactly what happened to “The Hunt,” when numerous people, who never saw the movie, protested by saying that the film glorifies murder and was too dangerous to ever be released.

In response, Universal Pictures, which had originally scheduled “The Hunt” for release in September 2019, pulled the movie from its schedule, before releasing the film six months later. And although some things could have been edited out of the film to make it less controversial—we might never know because the movie wasn’t screened for the media when the September 2019 release was cancelled—what did make it into the film shows that the controversy was much ado about nothing.

The controversy was fueled by concerns that “The Hunt” (which is about a group of people killing another group of people) was not an appropriate movie to release at a time when there were mass shootings in America. But the reality is that most horror movies are usually violent and are about people getting murdered. Violence has been a part of most horror movies, long before there was an increase in gun violence and mass shootings in the real world.

The reason for the protests against “The Hunt” go much deeper than concerns about inspiring copycat killings, because “The Hunt” was perceived as a politically charged film commenting on the divide between liberals and conservatives in America. How these two opposite groups would be portrayed in the movie was perhaps scarier or more offensive to a lot of the protesters than any of the gory violence that “The Hunt” was sure to depict. (And in case anyone was wondering, all the hunters and hunted in the movie are white Americans, so the movie avoids any racist or xenophobic controversy.)

It turns out that it was a mistake to automatically think that “The Hunt” glorifies liberals and demonizes conservatives. The liberals (the hunters) are actually the worst characters in the film (because they’re murderers), while the conservatives (the hunted) don’t really spout any of the narrow-minded, bigoted views in the movie that they allegedly have. The hunted people are too busy trying to survive the violent attacks that they get almost immediately after waking up bound and gagged in a remote field. And one of the hunted ends up being the movie’s main hero who fights back.

Her name is Crystal (played by Betty Gilpin), who’s a car-rental employee, and her spotlight as the movie’s toughest badass in the hunted group doesn’t come until about 25 minutes into the movie. But before then, at the beginning of the movie, viewers see someone’s phone with the text-message conversation that sets in motion this whole idea of “hunting conservatives.”

One of the text messages said that there would be “nothing better than going out to the manor and slaughtering a bunch of deplorables.”  For people who didn’t follow the U.S. presidential race in 2016, the “deplorables” word refers to a controversial September 2016 speech that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton made when she said: “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of [Donald] Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it.”

On a private plane, viewers see some of the people who were part of the text conversation. They’re fussy, snobbish (such as when they treat the flight attendant like she’s an idiot), and try to outdo each other in political correctness when they talk about social issues. Their extreme “wokeness” is obviously a parody.

But there’s some truth in the satire, such as in the way one of the pretentious elitists interrogates the flight attendant over the ingredients of his meal, to give the impression that he’s extremely concerned about the environment. And yet, he doesn’t see the irony that flying on a private jet is most definitely not an environmentally responsible thing to do.

The airplane crew members are oblivious to the sinister nature of the trip until a heavyset guy in a flannel shirt staggers out into the cabin area. The elitists panic and say that he wasn’t supposed to be awake yet, he’s called a “redneck,” and he’s dealt with in a very violent way. The person who’s the mastermind of this trip then shows herself: Her name is Athena (played by Hilary Swank), and it’s clear that she’s a ruthless psycho who can’t wait for the hunt to begin.

The hunted people have been drugged and kidnapped from various parts of the United States. (The druggings and kidnappings are mentioned, but not shown, in the movie.) By the time the hunted people have woken up bound and gagged in a remote open field, it doesn’t take long before they’re being shot at repeatedly by the hunters. The hunted people later find out that they’re not in the United States, as they assumed, but have been taken to a remote part of Croatia, for reasons that are explained in a certain part of the story. (The movie was actually filmed in Louisiana.)

One of the hunted is a nameless young woman (played by Emma Roberts) with big blonde hair and pastel blue athleisure wear, looking like someone’s idea of what a Fox News anchor would be like at home. She manages to free herself from her bindings, and she finds a key to unlock the gags that they’re wearing. Eventually, everyone gets free of their bindings and gags.

And then the hunted find a giant locked crate in the middle of the field, which is pried open to reveal a live pig (which viewers find out later is named Wilbur, because the movie has multiple references to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”) and an arsenal for them to use to defend themselves. The arsenal is a large variety, including samurai swords, Smith & Wesson firearms and fully automatic military-grade weapons. Meanwhile, Crystal is shown briefly by herself making a compass out of a leaf and a straight pin.

The hunted, who are mostly nameless in the movie, includes an options trader (played by Ike Barinholtz), who’s originally from New York’s Staten Island; a podcast host (played by Ethan Suplee); and various people who look like stereotypical “rednecks,” by wearing flannel shirts or outfits that look like they’re about to go fishing and, ironically, hunting.

The hunters are all dressed in luxury designer clothes. They’ve also hired a military-trained firearms expert named Sgt. Dale (played by Steve Mokate), who acts as their consultant for this killing spree. The details about who these hunters are and why they decided to participate in this massacre are revealed later in the story.

“The Hunt” (which was written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, who’ve worked together on the HBO shows “The Leftovers” and “Watchmen”) constantly skewers the elitist “liberal” views of the hunters. In one scene, two of the hunters debate over whether or not they should have included politically conservative people of color in the all-white group of targets because they need to have “diversity.”

In another scene, one of the hunters is wearing a Japanese-style robe, and one of the cohorts makes this remark: “Is that a kimono? That’s cultural appropriation.” And as one of the hunters gasses a victim, he says to the person he’s killing: “And for the record, climate change is real.” These jokes are meant to be clever, but they wear thin after a while because the tone of the movie is so uneven.

On the one hand, “The Hunt” wants to be a biting social commentary on the destructive hatred that can arise from extreme political differences. On the other hand, the commentary is undermined by the slapstick comedy in much of the film, whose violence is almost cartoonish.

The big showdown at the end of “The Hunt” is especially ridiculous, as the people involved suddenly have superhuman-like stunt skills and recover from injuries so quickly and unrealistically, that it takes away the humanity that’s necessary for a story like this to work well. In the end, “The Hunt” is a lot like the self-righteous political blowhards that the movie intends to spoof—there’s a lot more bark than there is bite.

Universal Pictures released “The Hunt” in U.S. cinemas on March 13, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has moved up the VOD release of “The Hunt” to March 20, 2020.

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