November 7, 2002

Abandon all but the Ending

Print More

By Dan Cohen

Red Letter daze staff writer

Like many of the standard adolescent and collegiate suspense thrillers coming out these days, Abandon is an easy-to-follow film … for the most part. The story follows Katie Burke (Katie Holmes) who is a senior on the verge of completing her thesis paper and graduating from a prominent university. Two years prior to the movie’s present, her boyfriend Embry, potently played by Charlie Hunnam, disappeared without a trace. Benjamin Bratt plays Officer Wade Handler, who is assigned the task of finding out what has happened to Embry while subsequently developing a romantic interest in Katie. Katie begins to “see” Embry on several occasions and is convinced that he has come back for her. The original suspense of the movie is trying to determine whether or not Embry has come back. Is Katie’s tough regimen taking a hallucinogenic toll or has the boy that’s put her in such a difficult funk for the past two years back again? Luckily for us, a handful of surprises occur. The movie follows the typical route of its genre for about 80 of its 100 minutes and then earns its distinction in the ending. While the previews make it look like a suspense or horror movie, it has a much better appeal as a psychological thriller.

The reason why this movie does far more than what I expected of it is because it aims for the sky. Abandon takes on many cinematic elements and indulges itself in tactics that, if judging the “book by its cover,” few would expect it to even attempt. First-time director Stephen Gaghan connects the scenes from the past with the present in a mystic and enthralling style. The stress and breakdown that Katie endures is beautifully captured in scenes that pull the audience into the confused state of mind of the protagonist. Minor and major players in the cast all hit their roles head on. Yeah, I passionately hate everything that Dawson’s Creek stands for, but Katie Holmes was pretty damn good as the layered Katie Burke. I’d also have to say that it is one of the more accurate depictions of college that I’ve seen on film, with the exception of the movie’s obvious plot-bearing traumas. The study sessions and party scenes were well done and, coincidentally, I could’ve sworn the dining hall they ate at was Trillium.

Needless to say, the pace of Abandon is one of its main problems. The movie’s overall buildup was too slow and many of the diversions into the past are unexplained and extremely confusing at first. Many parts are predictable and the twisted ending is almost expected because of the prior direction of events taken in the film. Not enough suspense is drawn out of whether or not Embry has actually come back to haunt Katie. Because of this, the lack of true suspense makes the middle of the movie drag on and many viewers could lose interest.

Still, the last twenty minutes make this film an overall success. The clips that are repeatedly shown of Katie Burke’s past take on a much more meaningful connection and the suspense climaxes in a similar unraveling to any of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies. Don’t get this film confused with Signs or Unbreakable, it does not achieve the intense buildup that such films are known for. Still, the movie was engaging and though its plot could never fully escape predictability, I found it somewhat plausible through its course, and even more hauntingly realistic in its ending.

Stephen Gaghan, who wrote the amazingly-layered screenplay for Traffic, did a lot with a story that had limited boundaries. If the writing behind Abandon had been less choppy and more provocative, the overall product would have been much better. The film achieved its full potential, but with a new script, a lot more could have been brought out. In years to come, the dark effort could become a female parallel to (should I dare say?) American Psycho. Whatever your take is on the film, Abandon does manage to escape being another mediocre generation X-filled thriller and boasts a cast of young and talented actors, as well as an up and coming director. My expectations were surpassed.

Archived article by Dan Cohen