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‘Abandoned’ should have been

The big mystery is why this didn’t go straight to DVD

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THE ABANDONED — * — Anastasia Hille, Karel Roden; rated R (violence, gore, nudity, profanity); Carmike 12 and Ritz 15; Century Sandy; Cinemark Jordan Landing

At the end of "The Abandoned," a horror movie about a woman who goes to Russia in search of her past, a voice-over muses that the wiser course might have been to leave the past alone and forget all about it. This advice might have been more useful, to the heroine and to me, if it had come about 90 minutes earlier, but what can you do? What's done is done.

Described in the final credits as "a Spanish-U.K.-Bulgarian co-production" (not something you see every day), "The Abandoned" may be the first film whose title seems to refer to its American release strategy. Slinking into theaters without critics' screenings or much advance publicity, it is less frightening than puzzling. Through the murk and gloom of its images, a mystery emerges: Why didn't this go straight to DVD?

Directed by Nacho Cerda from a script he wrote with Karim Hussain and Richard Stanley, "The Abandoned" is not completely terrible. Artily shot and artfully edited, it makes the most of its setting, a desolate island somewhere in the Russian hinterland, where the sun shines for about 20 minutes each day and where the main characters are powerless to prevent flashlights from slipping out of their hands.

An American woman named Marie (Anastasia Hille) shows up on the island, searching for clues about the fate of her birth mother, and stumbles into a ghoulish family reunion. She meets her milky-eyed zombie double and a man claiming to be her twin brother, Nikolai (Karel Roden). A scene of long-ago family violence is re-enacted for their benefit as crockery rattles, lights flicker and the cries of babies bubble up in the sound mix.

After a while, Cerda exhausts his repertory of spooky effects — too many dark hallways and illogical, foreboding point-of-view shots — and you begin to hunger for exposition, always a bad sign in a horror film. Even worse is that, by the time the explanations arrive, you no longer care.

"The Abandoned" is rated R for violence/gore, some disturbing images, nudity and language. Running time: 96 minutes.