Emma Roberts and her Abandoned co-star John Gallagher Jr., are no strangers to the horror/thriller genre. Roberts famously starred in Scream 4, FX’s American Horror Story and Fox’s Scream Queens, while Gallagher, a Tony award-winner, starred in 2016’s Hush and 2020’s Come Play.
Both are second-generation performers. (She’s the daughter of actor Eric Roberts and niece of Academy Award winner Julia Roberts and he’s the son of folk musicians John and June Gallagher.)
Roberts and Gallagher play a husband and wife who move from the big city to the rural countryside after the birth of their son, compounding the stress of first-time parenthood with first-time home ownership. The old farmhouse they’ve acquired comes complete with creepy children’s voices, strange knocking sounds and unexplained movements of objects, leading the lady of the house to suspect that they might be the ghosts of former young residents who came to an untimely end.
Meantime, Roberts’ Sara is troubled with postpartum psychosis and a cranky baby who refuses to nurse, while her workaholic husband Alex (Gallagher) is busy trying to build his veterinary practice in their new town. A former preschool teacher, Sara feels smothered in a house she reluctantly agreed to live in and a child whom she can’t quite figure out how to parent. Her only company is the arrival of a mysterious neighbor (played by Michael Shannon) who drops in unannounced, but slowly offers some clues about the former residents of the home.
Is the house actually haunted by dead kids or is Sara simply spooked by her hormonal demons? Director Spencer Squire uses a deft hand building the tension as the very lives of Sara, Alex and baby Liam hang in the balance.
Abandoned arrives in theaters June 17 and subsequently will be available on Digital and On Demand June 24. It is the first film to be released by Vertical Entertainment and film finance company TPC under their 2021 partnership to finance between 8-10 films per year.
Roberts, who became a first-time mom just months before shooting Abandoned, and Gallagher spoke via Zoom about their new film and being part of a story that goes beyond the usual supernatural scares.
Angela Dawson: This film is about a couple who are doing two of the most stressful things you can imagine: becoming first-time parents and moving into their first home. Emma, did you make the film before or after you had your son?
Emma Roberts: After. It was funny because I moved while I was seven months pregnant and I moved again when he was three months old. It was crazy. So, I very much related to the stress both times. He was about seven months old when we filmed this. Now, he’s one and a half.
Dawson: John, any personal experience of moving into a new place and dealing with the difficulties of that?
John Gallagher Jr.: I live in New York City, and I feel like moving just always gets exacerbated by how weirdly scrunched everything is in the city. People will do whatever they can to avoid moving in New York.
Dawson: Both of you have experience in the horror genre, but I don’t think I’ve seen a horror movie that has the added element of postpartum psychosis in it. Was that aspect interesting to you, in particular, Emma, being a new mom?
Roberts: What I think is so interesting is that we meet my character, Sara, and she’s struggling with being a new mom. She’s clearly having feelings about that that she can’t control. Then, she moves into the house, and wonders whether she’s experiencing something mental or is it something (supernatural) about this house? I liked that being the setup and the ending is intentionally ambiguous. You don’t know whether it was in her head or whether it was the house.
I’m excited for people to see this movie because I want to hear what people take away from it, whether they have children or don’t have children. I can’t see the movie clearly anymore after reading the script, being a new mom and being in (the movie).
I’m curious what people’s perception of her and what she’s dealing with is. What’s their takeaway? I’m excited to see that.
Dawson: John, what are thoughts about audiences coming to get a scare but also gaining an understanding of this often-misunderstood medical condition?
Gallagher: I was drawn to it because it was so intimate and it was real. I love that it starts as just this haunted house movie and then it pivots almost immediately to more of a character-driven family drama, and then it lives in that space for a while before jettisoning back into the classic horror genre that I love.
At the heart of it is just this family trying to take care of each other, and doing the best that they can. I really felt their pain and I believed the characters and felt for them in a really big way.
Any time you can make a heightened genre film while making people care about the characters is great. It doesn’t always happen in some of these scripts that you read, and I love that that was Spencer’s (Squire, the director) intention. He made it this family drama that turns into this nightmare.