Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #309
Also known as Gallows Hill
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 17 October 2013
Country of Origin: Spain
Running time: 87 minutes
Director: Víctor García
Producers: Peter Block, Andrea Chung, David Higgins
Screenplay: Richard D’Ovidio
Special Effects: Juan Serrano
Visual Effects: Jon Campfens, Francisco J. Ortega
Cinematography: Alejandro Moreno
Score: Frederik Wiedmann
Editing: Etienne Boussac
Studios: Launchpad Productions, A Bigger Boat, RCN Films & e-nnovva
Distributors: IFC Midnight
Stars: Peter Facinelli, Sophia Myles, Nathalia Ramos, Carolina Guerra, Sebastian Martínez, Gustavo Angarita, Juan Pablo Gamboa, Julieta Salazar, Tatiana Renteria
Suggested Audio Candy:
Frederik Wiedmann Soundtrack Suite
I guess it was inevitable once Fede Alvarez had exceeded every horror aficionado’s expectations by bringing the world his staggering Evil Dead reboot; that others would soon come sniffing for their slice of the pie. Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund staked their claim with Wither, a superior Swedish splatterfest which actually reached the marketplace before the deadites had even been summoned from the soil; and The Damned, originally titled the more distinctive Gallows Hill, is another pretender to the throne. Demonic possession is the name of the game and that shit never gets old, unless of course your name is Ash. Boomsticks at the ready then.
Víctor García has cut his teeth numerous times in the industry already although interestingly only with low-rent bolt-ons to Hellraiser, Mirrors, 30 Days of Night and The House on Haunted Hill. This is his opportunity to flourish with a concept of his own, albeit one seemingly bereft of originality. Instead of a dilapidated cabin in the woods we are confined within a rustic countryside inn off the beaten track in Colombia. Despite its slightly more hospitable setting and the fact that much of the film’s duration plays out in broad daylight, it’s no less ominous a locale.
Overbearing father David (Peter Facinelli) and his English rose fiance Lauren (Sophia Myles) accost his vacationing daughter Jill (Nathalia Ramos) and, along with her journalist friend Gina (Carolina Guerra) and her cameraman Ramon (Sebastian Martínez), the group ignore severe weather warnings and set off down a twisty country road together. One flash flood later and their automobile is sent hurtling down the resulting landslide and into a ravine below, leaving them royally screwed for the foreseeable and in search of somewhere to take refuge until the storm passes.
I know what you’re thinking. Gee whizz, another movie about five wayward travelers who, through their own stupidity and reluctance to heed warnings, find themselves marooned at a secluded homestead off the beaten track with a cranky owner. You’ve got me; there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen umpteen times before although García does have one exclusive trick up his sleeve. More on that momentarily. For the first half of proceedings we are in territory most familiar and the group’s stay amounts to the usual checking of dark recesses and dank cellars, while generally neglecting to listen to the owner’s heartfelt demands NOT to leave the room they start in. They happen across a scared young girl locked up in the basement and unwittingly release her from her box. Et voila! Get those fans oscillating as pretty soon there’s a whole ass load of surplus feces heading their way.
After a little head-scratching and dash of customary bickering; the group realize the error in their noble actions. The seemingly innocent damsel is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing; more accurately she is a cantankerous witch with the ability to possess the body of anyone foolish enough to snuff her out. To make matters worse, she knows all the group’s most intimate secrets, not just the ones where they shit themselves during summer camp, but the real game changers. You know, abortion, euthanasia, date rape; the kind of skeletons anyone appearing in a horror film has tucked away in their closet. Her home advantage allows her to whittle their wits down until which time as they snap and retaliate. This is an interesting concept, vaguely similar to one used by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein in 2010 for their superior psychological thriller 6 Souls, as their plight is made more hopeless by not being able to simply kill the demon. If they do, then its wandering dead soul will become instantly transferable and the cycle will perpetuate itself. Woe indeed.
Richard D’Ovidio’s script is more than serviceable and delivered with deftness by all the film’s main players. In particular, Julieta Salazar excels as Ana Maria, the little angel with dead black eyes able to cut through your very soul in a single glare. Facinelli and his co-conspirators perform wonders with the material also and help sell the concept further, while Alejandro Moreno’s effective cinematography and Frederik Wiedmann’s rousing score add no end of fuel to García’s fire. However, something is amiss and, most frustrating of all, I haven’t the faintest idea what that may be. For all The Damned’s unquestionable endeavor, it cannot help but fall a tad short.
Maybe it is the sedate pace that leaves it hamstrung or the fact that, once push comes to shove, the shove just isn’t harsh enough to knock us from our perches. Ultimately, one cannot shake that feeling that the promising premise is slightly wasted. It would have been nice if the paranoia aspect had been played on more as García’s film decides against keeping us guessing once its secret’s out and opts instead to blind side us with splatter. It almost works…almost. The conclusion tinkers with the idea of sacrifice and The Damned closes well considering the options available. But it never really gets under your skin and, with a little more thought, it could have been so much more than the sum of its parts.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: The emphasis here is on injury detail and the impressive make-up effects certainly don’t let the side down. Expect Evil Dead and you will come away with a salted peanut stuffed down your dick lid, but there is still plenty of red being splashed around, particularly in the film’s closing act. Bite marks, bullet wounds and stab cavities are our reward for sticking with it through any slumps.
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