Julia sees ghosts. A whole variety of 'em - scary specters, plaintive souls, lost children, even a few playful playmates.

At least she thinks she does, on those dark days when she doesn't take her antipsychotic meds.

Played with sympathy and sensitivity by Louisa Krause (Bluebird, Martha Marcy May Marlene), Julie is the unlikely hero of the haunted-house yarn The Abandoned, a tense, subdued, and well-acted creep-fest costarring veteran thesps Jason Patric and Philly native Mark Margolis.

Loaded with oodles of atmosphere, solid sound design, and amazing settings, writer-director Eytan Rockaway's feature debut also is a hopelessly muddled mess that tries to go in too many directions.

Krause plays a single mother with mental-health problems who is on the verge of losing her daughter unless she gets her life in order. She lands a job as one of two night guards who watch over an abandoned apartment building in New York. A massive, cavernous, neoclassical number filled to the brim with marble, tile, columns, and crazy frescoes, the setting is the film's biggest attraction.

"You have to be careful here," Julie's boss (Ezra Knight) tells her as he takes his leave for the night. "Things are starting to fall apart."

You don't know the half of it.

Patric is wonderful as the other guard, a grotesque, perpetually drunk, middle-age misanthrope with a sadistic streak who plays nasty practical jokes on the newbie.

"I've been here since the beginning of time," he tells her with bitterness as he takes a swig of whiskey.

Soon enough, Julie begins seeing scary apparitions. Then she discovers a mysterious door, a system of tunnels, crazy catacombs, and a creepy underground dormitory that used to house mentally disturbed kids.

Despite its formulaic structure, The Abandoned has a lot going for it. It eschews cheap scares, bloodletting, and gore. Instead, it works the audience with good, old-fashioned suspense. And it has heart.

But it spins out of control in the third act, taking a narrative turn that's just too difficult to swallow as it morphs from a well-executed thriller into a melodramatic tearjerker.



The Abandoned **1/2 (out of four stars)


Directed by Eytan Rockaway. With Jason Patric, Louisa Krause, Mark Margolis. Distributed by IFC Films.

Running time: 1 hour, 26 mins.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (profanity, disturbing images).

Playing at: PFS Roxy Theater.EndText