Is it possible that the thriller genre has taken the back seat lately? There’s something very stunted about thriller films from the past year that leaves me wondering if I’ve seen too many or if they’re just not as good as they used to be. The Abandoned is a Taiwanese film about two police officers, one struggling with the grief of a traumatic incident (tell me something new), and the other a young and excited newcomer who wants to win everyone over with her skills. The first big problem with this film is how incompetent the protagonists are. Is it for comic relief? Is it meant to keep us on our toes, hoping they’ll survive despite their many errors? Is it because they’re women and are meant to be inferior? At some point, you’re left wondering, “How are they not dead already?” I suppose this film was released on Netflix on the last day of the year because that’s where the story begins. That’s where the excitement stops. As a fan of police procedural crime thrillers, I was left bafflingly disappointed by this film.
Cinematically, nothing is lacking in this film. Given the genre, there’s something very unoriginal about The Abandoned. Visually, it all feels like something you’ve seen before. I may not be able to make exact comparisons, but it’s almost like a déjà vu feeling. Similarly, the movie uses classical music that crescendos when we’re meant to feel the “thrills.” The plot may not be as rewarding, but at least the music is fun to listen to. It’s not a sluggish film as such, but after a certain bit, it almost feels as if there’s no point to what is happening. Despite the two main characters resembling typical cop movie roles, the grief-stricken oldie and the rookie with no experience, it comes across almost like a comedy of errors when they’re working together. Everything is an accidental finding or survival by chance. This is the most frustrating part of the film. How does one respect the cops if they can’t even handle a migrant worker who is struggling with trauma? On top of that, there’s a captain who claims he’s doing all he can to help Wu Jie, the oldie and deputy captain, yet he pushes her further into dangerous situations that could never help her.
The film uses a series of flashbacks that come in flashes (obviously), feeling very 2000 and late. It also makes the film a bit longer than it needs to be, especially for a home viewing. Technically, the case is solved somewhere in the middle of the second act of the film, I suppose because the focus of the film is Wu Jie’s melancholy. Under the guise of a crime thriller, I can say this is technically a romance movie. Everything that happens, the crimes too, are related to the endeavors of love. All the performances are just right, but there’s only so much that can be done with the material provided. I was reminded of both Memories of Murder and Zodiac while watching this film, the first because if I think about bodies found in ditches, I think of Memories of Murder, and the second because of the color grading and the tense atmosphere the film is attempting to create. Don’t get me wrong, though; it’s nowhere close to these two films in thrilling aspects. In terms of pacing, The Abandoned is quite consistent. The third act of the film, though, changes directions swiftly, in a somewhat awkward manner, but manages to keep us engaged.
What I do appreciate is the integrated story of the migrant laborers in Taiwan. If this part of the film was explored further and made the central plot, it would’ve made for a much more intriguing film. I suppose there are hints of something wonderful, but the social commentary is surface-level and comes across as wasted potential for a plot device. I suppose there are a lot of comical elements to mask the gloomy nature of all the characters in the film. It is technically a sad film, despite having a cathartic ending; however, it’s a failed attempt. I did laugh, but at the stupidity of the plot and some of the choices made by the main characters.
It’s also very unclear why Wu Jie is so trusting when she’s gone through something terrible in the recent past. Again, making it seem like an arc will push the plot forward and make the ending feel more cathartic to the character, just for the sake of it all. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a predictable thriller. In fact, there’s a fantastic feeling when you see a curve ball coming, making you feel like you’re Sherlock Holmes himself. However, in this film, it doesn’t quite work. Some things are simply obvious choices, and the characters aren’t convincing enough to make it feel natural.
At the end of the day, The Abandoned is nothing but ordinary. Despite having the potential to be something big, it lacks commitment in all aspects, making it appear to be an amalgamation of inspiration rather than a cohesive, well-written film on its own two feet. This is the second time I’ve been disappointed by a Taiwanese film in one month. This is not to say that Taiwanese movies are terrible; maybe the thriller and horror genres are just not doing so well right now. I do appreciate that there is no ambiguity in the plot, and everything is answered by the end of the film. However, this also adds to the forgettable nature of the film as a whole (oops). I really wanted to enjoy this film, especially since it has two female cops in the leading roles, but after watching the film, it almost felt somewhat of an insult because of how inadequate they are at the job at hand, at least to me. I’d say, just like many other thrillers of the year gone by, The Abandoned is simply insipid. I’d give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.