Eight films with immersive abandoned settings

If you’ve been following me on any social media or have read some of my work, you know I have a thing for all things abandoned. On a recent Dark Discussions episode, we reviewed the 2001 film Session 9—it has some small issues, for sure, but you can’t beat the atmosphere; it was shot in the real former Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, which today is home to luxury apartments (yes, really).

I decided it might be fun to pull together a list of my favorite movies that are set in abandoned locations. I didn’t include films that have one or two stunning scenes in such places—believe it or not, the animated love fest Happy Feet would rank high on that list, with its most disturbing scene playing out in an abandoned Antarctic whaling station—only films that are almost entirely set in them.

Please note: The only thing these films have been judged on is the quality of the abandoned setting. Check out your favorite review venue if you want more detail on the film’s other aspects before watching.

8 Abandoned Session9

David Caruso stands amidst the ruins in SESSION 9.

Session 9 (2001)

An asbestos cleaning crew takes on a big contract at a crumbling, abandoned asylum, not realizing that they’re going to get a lot more than they bargained for when they find cassettes of a patient’s hypnotherapy sessions. Many people consider this one of the most terrifying movies of all time, but I maintain it’s because of the claustrophobic setting. Shot at Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts (before it was gutted and became Bradlee Danvers Luxury Apartments—check it out here), this is a fine example of how setting is sometimes the biggest player in what makes a movie scary. Watch Session 9

8 Abandoned Ghost Ship

An abandoned state room in GHOST SHIP.

Ghost Ship (2002)

A salvage crew thinks they’ve hit the jackpot when they find a passenger liner that went missing forty years ago—one that had long been rumored to harbor massive treasure. But it also harbors something else: ghosts for sure, but I’m thinking more along the lines of splendid furnishings corroded by four decades worth of exposure to the salt air. For most of us, this is as close as we’ll ever get to exploring a derelict liner. The set is so ably rendered it’s easy to envision the grandeur that must’ve been. Watch Ghost Ship

8 Abandoned Reincarnation

Something’s amiss in the surprisingly bright abandoned resort in REINCARNATION.

Reincarnation (2005)

A filmmaker and his crew go to an abandoned hotel twenty years after it was the scene of a mass murder. As the actors lay down in the very spots the people they’re playing were killed, the dead that wander the halls come to life. This fun J-horror from those that brought you Ju-on (The Grudge)’s hotel is so brightly lit and angular it’s hard to imagine it could ever be scary, but somehow, the architecture makes it worse; extra points for the pivots between past and present. Watch Reincarnation

8 Abandoned The Abandoned

A woman looking for answers stumbles across unpleasant things in THE ABANDONED.

The Abandoned (2006)

A film producer returns to her Russian home to learn about her birth parents, but what she finds at their abandoned farm is anything but comforting. The attention to detail in creating the abandoned environments is mind blowing—they’ve done lots more than just cobwebs, dirt, and peeling paint; this one gets high marks, also, for the incredible time-lapse to the past. Watch The Abandoned

8 Abandoned Chernobyl Diaries

The urban explorers in THE CHERNOBYL DIARIES behold the nuclear reactor that destroyed the city of Pripyat from an abandoned apartment balcony.

Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

This tale of a gaggle of kids out on a dare to explore the abandoned city of Pripyat—laid to waste by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster—wasn’t shot on location, but the city designed for this film is so exquisitely detailed the average viewer is easily fooled. The real Pripyat can be toured safely, but if you can’t get there, this is the next best thing: you get to armchair explore abandoned apartments and several other buildings, including an old restaurant kitchen. Good stuff! Watch Chernobyl Diaries

8 Abandoned Across the River

An ethologist discovers a still-stocked tavern in an abandoned village in ACROSS THE RIVER.

Across the River (2016)

In this Italian creepfest, an ethologist (that’s someone who studies animal behavior) finds himself trapped in a cursed, abandoned village in the forlorn woods along the Italian/Slovanian border. He basically makes himself a home—sleeping in a rotting bed, cooking in a leaky-roofed kitchen, and even partying it up in an abandoned bar with booze that’s God knows how old. Watch Across the River

8 Abandoned Eloise movie 2017

One of the specters that haunts the halls of ELOISE.

Eloise (2017)

A greedy dude enlists a few suckers to help him penetrate a decaying asylum in search of an inheritance-guaranteeing death certificate. Filmed at the real abandoned Eloise Psychiatric Hospital in Westland, Michigan, this makes the list for its crossfades between the past and the present; if you’re a fan of the work of Pablo Iglesias Maurer (you can check that out here), then this is the movie for you. Watch Eloise

8 Abandoned Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom

I can’t wait to see JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, because what’s better than an abandoned amusement park under siege by dinosaurs AND lava?

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

In this forthcoming sequel to 2015’s smash hit Jurassic World, the race is on to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from volcanic Armageddon. In the trailer, the shots of the abandoned park are incredibly detailed, and the couple of scenes with these deteriorating spaces under siege by lava are nothing short of glorious. Will be released on June 22, 2018. Visit Jurassic World

Many blogs have compiled lists like this one. If you’re looking for more titles, I recommend checking out the following:

Abandoned Wonders, “Top Ten Movies Set in Abandoned Places”

Web Urbanist, “Abandoned on Film: 15 Terrifying Desolate Movie Settings”


About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies; her traditionally published books include a short story collection, THE SHADOWS BEHIND. She was the recipient of three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She serves as co-host of the DARK DISCUSSIONS podcast, as founding editor of the dark literary journal 34 ORCHARD, and is a member of the New England Horror Writers. Follow her adventures at kristipetersenschoonover.com.

Posted on January 26, 2018, in Dark Discussions - Film Talk, Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff, Horror Movies, News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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