Movie Review - The Damned
In The Damned, now available in select theaters and on VOD, director Victor Garcia creates an absolutely bleak and chilling piece of cinema that slowly works it's way into your bones. For me, it is one of the most pleasantly surprising horror films of the year. Released by IFC Midnight, the film was originally called Gallows Hill, but according to writer Richard D'Ovidio the title was changed when the filming was relocated from Salem, Massachusetts to Columbia, South America. But the move to a different locale only adds an increased sense of tension, due to the characters unfamiliarity with their surroundings. And frankly I think you'd be hard pressed to find a location in the States that feels as isolated. Not to mention, the relocation gave us access to the utterly stunning Carolina Guerra - a Columbian model and actress who is so exquisite and immensely talented that she practically steals the film. The Damned is a movie worthy of your support.
David Reynolds and his new wife-to-be, Lauren, fly into Columbia in order to pick up his daughter from a previous marriage, Jill. She is vacationing with her aunt Gina (a local reporter) and a young camera man, Ramon. Jill makes no secret that she isn't crazy about her father's new love interest, and expresses her desire to stay in Columbia and miss their wedding. But at her dad's insistence, she relents. Much to David's dismay, she has left her passport in a different city and the group are forced to travel together to retrieve it before they leave the country. While attempting to cut through the desolate mountain roads they are caught in a terrible storm. After disregarding police warnings to keep to the main roads, the group decides to press forward in order to save time. But when the car is hit by a large mudslide, they are left stranded in the middle of nowhere with no transportation or shelter. After some searching, they come upon a seemingly abandoned house in the hills. The houses only resident, Felipe, is an older gentleman who seems extremely reluctant to let the group in. After some prodding, he allows them to enter, but insists that they do not leave the living room. When he leaves with David to find fire wood to warm the house, Jill and Ramon wander off to find a bathroom. While in the bathroom, Jill believes that she hears a young girl calling for help somewhere in the house. When Felipe returns with David and the firewood, he is alarmed that the two young ones have disobeyed his demand to stay put. Meanwhile, Jill and Ramon discover the source of the noise, a young girl locked into a large box in the basement. But before they can release her, Felipe finds them and warns them not to. Assuming that Felipe is hurting this young girl, the group decides to go against his warning and let her out of the box. But after more closely examining the situation, it begins to become obvious that this is no ordinary little girl, and it sets off a chain of events that will push everyone to their breaking point.
If you regularly read my reviews, you may have seen me critique the film As Above, So Below for not fully committing to the 'past sins coming back to haunt you' premise that it set out. The Damned is a perfect example of how to use this same idea and make it work: by being consistent. Richard D'Ovidio's script is taut, leaving little room for holes in the story or breaks in the action. This makes for a film that starts off at a very deliberate pace which increases steadily until the films breakneck conclusion. I admit, I was a little turned off when the film opened with one of my least favorite plot devices: a foreshadowing of the final frame. But when the the twisted ending of the film is revealed, we realize that, if anything, this was actually a brilliant misdirection.
The cast was solid. Peter Facinelli anchors the film as David, turning in an incredibly realistic performance that helps to ground the movie. He isn't just ridiculously handsome, people, he has some serious acting chops. Sophia Myles is charming as Lauren, while Nathalia Ramos' performance as Jill manages to balance her burgeoning maturity with a bit of childish brattyness. But the stand out performance of the film comes from a virtually unknown actress named Carolina Guerra. Which might seem surprising, because as the former host for Columbia's Next Top Model it would be easy to write her off as just another pretty face. But her performance as Gina is captivating due to a refinement and naturalism in her acting style that is completely under used in horror films nowadays. Though, in the interest of being totally honest, I would happily have paid the admission price of the film just to watch her sit still for ninety minutes.
All in all, this film is a winner. The pace is pitch perfect, the cast and film makers seem to coalesce impeccably to convey the story, and the ending caught me completely off guard. My hats off to both Victor Garcia and Richard D'Ovidio. I would like to see the writer and director collaborate on another film in the future, as I thought they complimented each others work nicely. And I look forward to seeing a lot more from Carolina Guerra. Like, a whole lot. Cheers.
- Leo Francis