Director: Jason Satterlund
Starring: Jonathan Rosenthal and Tamara Perry
A bottle episode is a device most commonly associated with television that limits locations to only one room or set. Famously, episodes of SEINFELD, BREAKING BAD, and THE SOPRANOS have used a limited scope to create some of their most memorable episodes. Films as diverse as 12 ANGRY MEN, MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, and ROPE have all played in this claustrophobic sandbox. Going on three years of pandemic-induced isolation, it makes sense that filmmakers are gravitating towards limited scope in their narratives. Not only is it a way to help ensure safety on a set it's a logical way to reflect the loneliness and dread we are all experiencing.
Miles Willis, a wounded Army soldier, is having a bad day. Not only has he been shot but he finds himself trapped in a gray tiled room that defies his basic understanding of physics. Gravity appears to be subjective if not manipulated, the temperature quickly shifts to extremes, and writing appears on the walls from an unseen presence.
All films are dependent on their casting but a few conceits like a bottle episode will test an actor's ability. In THE ABANDON Jonathan Rosenthal is the sole person we see on screen for the majority of the 90-minute runtime. The film is completely told from his point of view, a man with a bullet in his stomach trying to make sense of the senseless situation he finds himself in. If you put the wrong actor in this role there is no way to cut around or hide it. In many ways this film could work as a black box play, it is that much of a performance-driven piece. A drama/horror/sci-fi/thriller black-box piece but one that is absolutely rooted in performance and Rosenthal is up for the task of selling this character.
While the film is not pushing the audience to distrust Miles, it's hard not to question how much of what we are witnessing is real, after all, it would be completely understandable if our protagonist was a bit off in his perception of reality. And that's something most of us have experienced over the last three years, a shift in reality pushed by disembodied forces, a desperate need to connect, and the feeling that maybe it is time to abandon hope. The sense that we need to let go to move on is becoming more pervasive and the fear of what lies on the other side is becoming calloused. We can't remain on high alert in perpetuity, eventually, we run out of fucks to give.
While not directly a film about the pandemic, THE ABANDON is certainly playing with our current psyche and makes what could have been a disposable thriller into something worthy of examination.