Directed by: #MartinVredeNielsen
Written by: #MartinVredeNielsen
An exhausted and rundown man (Martin Geertz) in the throes of a psychological breakdown, one night, makes his way through the forest, seemingly lugging a body around, after a traumatic event. With his young daughter, Emma (Alva Luna Aagaard Ege), in tow, the man begins a rapid descent into madness, as the spectres of his failings, doubt and fragility emerge from the shadows to assail him at every turn. Rife with symbolism and atmosphere, Martin Vrede Nielsen’s Abandoned is a beautifully layered and terrifyingly effective psychological-horror movie.
You’ve got to hand it to the actors here, particularly Martin Geertz: we’re dropped right into the middle of this insanity; of the man’s creeping madness with minimal context and only our assumptions to guide us. And yet, somehow, there’s an endearing quality to him and his plight. It may be a small cast (with the focus lying heavily on Geertz), but the performances are superb, and more importantly, memorable.
The story (that all-important missing context) reveals itself through the man’s actions and in his utterances to himself while wandering the dark forest. The quality of writing, here, is crucial, and Nielsen’s is stellar. Not content to give anything freely, he instead reveals the plot gradually, wrapping it in layers of symbolism and making the viewer work to decode its secrets. It’s an approach that works really well, and as we’re drawn further down the rabbit hole by this unfolding narrative, the foreboding and disorientating atmosphere – conjured so effortlessly by Esben Frese’s first-rate cinematography – envelops the viewer and keeps us locked in the man’s ever-crumbling psyche; a nightmarish dreamscape of regret and sorrow.
As I like to think I’ve made apparent, mental illness (and in turn suicide) is the main focus of Abandoned’s gaze, and the entire film can be seen as an allegory for grief. Horror films do, of course, have a long history of dealing with mental illness - usually very respectfully too, I might add. The Babadook – released in 2014 to critical acclaim – portrayed the outwardly destructive nature of grief to absolute perfection, using the eponymous creature (a pitch-black hooded figure) to demonstrate how psychological damage, like grief or depression, stains us and never truly leaves. Abandoned follows this recipe, albeit with an inwardly destructive flavour.
Indeed, there’s much to uncover and appreciate here:
The dark forest is representative of the man’s psychological state.
The creature stalking him through the trees is symbolic of creeping insanity.
The body he’s dragging around informs the viewer that he still feels the burden of his grief, and reminds the man of the guilt which will forever haunt him.
And by the end, although things seem to resolve agreeably, it’s evident the man’s not out of the woods yet, as that lingering darkness refuses to be left behind among the trees.
The decision to give a five-star rating to this film is one of the easiest I’ve made. Abandoned is a phenomenal (damn near perfect, in fact) piece of horror filmmaking that reminds us there’s no quick fix when it comes to mental illness.
I’m a huge fan, and I can’t wait to see what Nielsen does next.