“THE DAMNED” (Movie Review)
Why would an inn located in the deepest, remote wilds of Colombia have the very American-Southwest name of Gallows Hill? Perhaps that concern led GALLOWS HILL to be retitled THE DAMNED, or maybe that generic new moniker was chosen to reflect the familiarity of the movie itself, a smattering of creatively creepy moments notwithstanding.
THE DAMNED (on VOD, and opening in select theaters today) is the fifth feature for former FX artist Victor Garcia since he broke out as a director with the short EL CICLO, but only the second that’s not a sequel. Certainly, the material is a step up from RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and HELLRAISER: REVELATIONS, even if the twists in its story mostly serve to shift its orientation from one genre convention to another. The opening scenes introduce us to a family in the midst of dysfunction: David Reynolds (Peter Facinelli) has traveled all the way to South America with fiancée Lauren (Sophia Myles) to retrieve his teen daughter Jill (Nathalia Ramos) for their wedding. David’s been on the outs with Jill ever since the death of her mother, and has been hanging with mom’s sister, local reporter Gina (Carolina Guerra)—and, to David’s consternation, has been making time with Gina’s hunky assistant Ramón (Sebastian Martínez).
There’s more than enough tension to fill the SUV the group piles into to fetch Jill’s passport, even before a torrential storm and a series of bad decisions contrive to strand them in the middle of the rainforest. They make their way to that isolated inn, which is abandoned save for a suspicious old man named Felipe (Gustavo Angarita). Soon they discover the reason he doesn’t seem happy to have them there: A little girl, Ana Maria (Julieta Salazar), is locked up in a basement room, and Felipe reacts violently to their attempts to free her.
You don’t have to be a genre completist to figure out that there’s a very good reason Ana Maria has been imprisoned, and that it’ll be bad news for these well-meaning folks when they free her from captivity. Nor is it much a surprise when those interfamilial issues among the Reynoldses are exploited by the evil they’ve unleashed. Screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio, whose past credits include the supernatural gorefest THIR13EN GHOSTS and the tense real-world thriller THE CALL, makes an admirable stab at infusing personal drama with deadly occult intervention, though the endgame he’s come up with for THE DAMNED’s vengeful spirit leads him to write himself into a corner by about the hour mark, with her rules and motivations subsequently changing as need be to keep the central family in danger.
Garcia, shooting on appropriately threatening locations and sets, creates atmosphere that’s eerie in undistinguished way—muted colors, odd tones on the soundtrack—though at least it doesn’t assault the viewer with the fast cutting and visual distortion one sees in many paranormal flicks these days. In that context, THE DAMNED is downright classical in certain ways, though the occasional gore and sexually charged moments mark it as very much a movie of its time. Once in a while, Garcia lands an image or jump-scare that connects, and a couple of late-coming story turns pack the intended chill. There just aren’t enough of them to break THE DAMNED fully away from the pack of horror films about not-necessarily-completely-innocent people stumbling into situations that put them at the mercy of dark forces.