NEW YORK — An uncommon level of thematic ambitiousness and accomplished style ultimately is not enough to compensate for the sheer silliness and pretensions of "The Abandoned."
This horror entry of international provenance, apparently well received last year when it was presented in a nationally distributed horror film series, was quietly released Friday without press screenings or much in the way of publicity.
The feature debut of Spanish filmmaker Nacho Cerda — revered among horror buffs for provocative shorts like "Aftermath" — the film is a murky affair dealing with an American film producer (Anastasia Hille) returning to her provincial Russian birthplace searching for answers about her past. There, she encounters a man (Karel Roden) claiming to be her twin brother; when the two decide to explore the ruins of their old family home, they encounter a series of ghosts whose menacing appearances provide clues as to the horrific events of their childhood.
This bare-bones story line is not enough to sustain interest, with the film degenerating into a repetitive series of predictable set pieces involving actors simulating zombies with the aid of distorting lenses.
Still, "Abandoned" has its effective moments thanks to the filmmaker's obvious craftsmanship and talent for effectively spooky atmo-spherics. It actually manages to produce some genuine scares without lapsing into the sort of excessive gore and sadism that have lately become so depressingly prevalent in the horror genre.
East of Havana
NEW YORK — The little-known world of Cuban hip-hop gets much-needed exposure in this documentary profiling three rappers. Unfortunately, while "East of Havana" provides interesting personal tales and a nicely photographed travelogue of the island, it offers little in the way of substance to justify its feature-length running time.
Charlize Theron is listed as one of the producers of this effort, written and directed by Jauretsi Saizabitoria and Emilia Menocal. The film's subjects are Magyori Martinez Veitia, Mikki Flow and Soandry, all part of a loose collective of hip-hop artists known as El Cartel.
The film revolves around the trio's preparations for an annual hip-hop festival that has been held on the island since 1998. The festival is being threatened by the approach of a hurricane, though it soon becomes apparent that this is more of an excuse for the government to cancel the renegade event.
While it provides performance footage of the spotlighted artists, the film spends most of its running time providing personal profiles like Soandry's longing to be reunited with an older brother who fled to the U.S. a decade ago.
The trio do prove themselves to be articulate spokespersons for their cause, which is to express themselves musically in a form not approved of by the government-controlled music industry. Needless to say, they have been highly influenced by the American hip-hop they have been exposed to via albums illegally imported from the U.S.
Despite the freshness of its subject, however, "Havana" proves frustrating with its skimpy information and lack of broader context.