Horror cinema’s most enduring cliche involves characters inanely putting themselves in harm’s way, and “The Abandoned” does not dispatch with such familiar silliness. Defined by its protagonist’s preternatural habit of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, Eytan Rockaway’s directorial debut involves a young woman who takes a job as the nocturnal security guard at a going-to-seed residential complex, only to find that it houses secrets of a most sinister, supernatural order. Despite the capable presence of Jason Patric in a thanklessly one-note role, this generic chiller clings so tightly to conventions that it fails to even moderately raise one’s pulse — and seems destined for a quick trip to the VOD graveyard where so many other similarly chintzy B-movies reside.
In order to regain custody of her daughter, Julia (Louisa Krause) takes a job as the overnight patrolwoman at an enormous building that was set to house tenants until an economic downturn left it abandoned. Given that the place — marked by towering columns, grand staircases, ornately decorated ceilings and marble floors — resembles a miniature version of Manhattan’s Grand Central Station, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Nonetheless, it functions as an imposing locale fit for suspenseful action, most of it set in the dark, since the structure’s electricity has a pesky tendency to fluctuate at the most inopportune moments.
Julia’s sole co-worker is wheelchair-bound Cooper (Patric), who mans a control room full of security-camera monitors, and who introduces himself by making skeevy passes at Julia. Giving his new charge a video camera-enabled headset, he sends her off to make her nightly rounds, though before she can even begin truly inspecting the place’s enormous corridors and ballrooms, she’s forced to contend with a homeless man named Jim (Mark Margolis) who, seeking shelter from a raging storm, begs and pleads to be allowed inside. Ignoring protocol, Cooper’s protestations, and any shred of common sense, Julia grants Jim (and his dog) entrance, provided he remains in his room — a dictate that, in a twist only the moronic Julia can’t see coming, he quickly ignores.
Julia’s foolhardy conduct continues when she seeks out a mysterious room that’s listed in blueprints but devoid of security-cam coverage — an area that, it turns out, is located behind an enormous, locked iron door. While Cooper tells her that it’s just an unfinished section of the building, and that they’re not supposed to visit it, Julia checks it out anyway, discovering subterranean chambers full of the usual horror bric-a-brac: creepy dolls, rows of stained-mattress beds, unsettling children’s drawings pinned to peeling walls, and a handful of youthful specters in tattered gowns who whisper, shake and scream with metronomic predictability.
A quick Internet search later, and Julia and Cooper have learned that their place of employment used to house (in its underground basement?) an institute for physically deformed and mentally handicapped children, who were horribly mistreated by the staff. Cooper is suitably disturbed but unwilling to believe that these kids’ spirits now haunt the dwelling. And when he discovers that Julia is on anti-psychotics, he decides to lock her up — even though, in yet another oh-so-convenient development, she claims the meds were prescribed to her only because doctors didn’t buy her claims that she can sense (and commune with) that which cannot be seen.
Much running, screaming and nonsensical behavior ensues, all of it dramatized by Rockaway and cinematographer Zack Galler with competent (if derivative) aesthetics that place an emphasis on the interplay between narrow light and consuming shadows. “The Abandoned’s” plotting, however, is a lumbering mess, resorting to the cheapest jolt-scare tactics to elicit terror, from bodies swiftly scurrying past the frame, to ghouls suddenly materializing behind characters, to Cooper’s wheelchair leaving him vulnerable to things that go bump in the night.
While both Patric and Krause are as engaging as their paper-thin parts will allow, it’s difficult to take the material seriously when it invariably employs the hoariest of devices. That extends to the objectification of its blonde heroine, who’s forced to wear a uniform at outset, only to then randomly remove it so that she might better combat the forces of the undead in a form-fitting white tank top — which, per genre rules, is eventually destined to get soaking wet.