Written by: Matt Patti | June 16th, 2022
Abandoned (Spencer Squire, 2022) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Having your first child is an experience like no other. Many assert that the bond between a mother and child is the strongest bond one will ever experience and a truly remarkable feeling. I’m sure most folks would agree that the birth of a child, especially your first, is a very special moment. However, the day-to-day struggles and sleepless nights afterward are well-known to be exhausting, both mentally and physically. Caring for a newborn is surely no easy task but imagine juggling that responsibility while living in a house with a dark past that may be haunted. That situation and the strife that follows is explored in director Spencer Squire’s feature debut, Abandoned.
In the film, first-time mother Sara (Emma Roberts, Holidate) and her husband Alex (John Gallagher Jr., Underwater) move to a rural area with their infant son Liam to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. They find a remote farmhouse for a remarkable price and, despite the realtor letting them both know of a tragic event that happened in the house, decide to take the deal. Sara hopes that this quiet, quaint place will help her feel more connected to Liam, as she’s struggling to form a genuine bond with him. Unfortunately, the house provides just the opposite, as Sara begins to lose her sanity as things seem to move on their own and she sees apparitions from the house’s past, leaving her unable to focus on her son. As Sara unravels, she discovers more and more secrets the house holds in its walls. Is Sara experiencing postpartum psychosis, or is there a paranormal presence tearing her and Liam apart?
The film really only consists of four main characters, so the cast is small, but they all bring their A-game. Specifically, Emma Roberts as Sara and Michael Shannon (Knives Out), who plays their odd, distant neighbor Chris, provide exceptional performances. Roberts and Gallagher have solid chemistry together and Roberts successfully captures what a mother experiencing postpartum depression is like. Her range remains impressive to me, as I’m used to seeing her play obnoxious, bitterly sarcastic characters, but recently she has grown and taken on more grounded, mature roles. Shannon is excellent as always as a very mysterious man, but one that you can’t help but feel sympathetic towards.
The performances are, in my opinion, the standout aspect of the film, but the plot, while not overly captivating, does hold interest. Sara and Alex are learning how to be parents and take care of Liam, but Sara struggles when Alex is not home. Her attempts to be warm and comforting seem to not work for Liam, as he is easily agitated, and her attempts to quiet his cries are futile. The added aspect of the house’s sinister history, complete with voices and figures that disturb Sara, only makes the situation worse. Sara’s uphill battles lend well to her character’s development throughout the film.
Sadly, some horror fans will, I believe, be disappointed. The film won’t keep anyone awake at night, save for perhaps expectant mothers, as the fright depicted is more centered around the trials and tribulations of being a parent, while also living in a house with a dark past, rather than the paranormal itself. The haunted-house aspect almost feels like an afterthought, as it’s clearly not the main focus. The movie does become painfully slow at times due to the lack of suspenseful scenes, and the conclusion leaves a bit to be desired. However, even for me, an avid horror fan, I still found enjoyment in the great performances, development of several of the main characters, and the showcase of a mother’s fears and struggles. In the end, I believe that Abandoned conveys an intriguing message: parenthood can be just as scary as a haunting, if not more so.