Review: The Condemned

STUDIO: Strand Releasing | DIRECTOR: Roberto Busó-García | CAST: Cristina Rodlo, René Monclova, Luz Odilea Font, Axel Anderson, Jana L. Torres Diaz
DVD RELEASE DATE: 5/7/2013 | PRICE: DVD $24.99
BONUSES: featurette, on-the-set footage, deleted scenes
SPECS: NR | 90 min. | Foreign language horror-mystery | widescreen | stereo | Spanish with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

 

The Condemned (or Los condenados in its native Puerto Rico) is an interesting little creature. Directed by Roberto Busó-García (Paging Emma) it attempts the noble feat of telling an old-fashioned ghost story without resorting to special effects or buckets of gore. In that sense, it’s a success; it does manage to create a genuinely creepy atmosphere that recalls those 1970’s horror flicks we all loved to be scared of as kids… which is what makes the muddled, confusing plot with a bizarre twist ending such a disappointing turn.

The Condemned movie scene

Christina Rodlo looks good--despite a growing feeling of terror--in The Condemned.

On paper, it’s actually a pretty good idea: a famous cancer-fighting doctor (Axel Anderson) returns, with his grown-up daughter (Cristina Rodlo), to their Puerto Rican home where his research began. He is now old and bedridden; she, ambitious and pragmatic. Her plans to modernize the town are met with a bizarre resistance by the creepy townsfolk, who hint at a darker past the good doctor is guilty of. And that’s where things get confusing. In theory, the viewer is kept on the edge of his seat as Doc’s dark past slowly unravels, by way of a haunted house hoping to expose the doctor’s sins. In practice, the viewer starts off confused and ends up more confused. The daughter’s conversion from modern skeptic to superstitious believer is unconvincing, while the townspeople spend the entire film making vague accusations eventually bordering on parody.

But here’s the interesting part: a surprise, Fight Club-esque ending almost redeems the film- or at least, clarifies the story enough for you to realize that, with a better narrative, they might have actually achieved a low-budget horror gem. The actors’ wooden deliveries notwithstanding, it’s the poorly-written script (or the hacked-up edit) that sabotages The Condemned ‘s noble aspirations.

The DVD extras provide some clues as to what went wrong. Well, not with the couple of bizarre “making of” segments they’ve included, which have no interviews, narration, or even intelligible audio from the set. One of them, a montage of footage set to the film’s creepy score, manages to beat out the movie itself in terms of genuine weirdness.

But it’s the deleted scenes that shed some light onto what happened. Subplots which the DVD tells us were unnecessary would have actually helped give the audience more clues to piece together. The characters’ actions would have made sense, as would have the surprise twist that instead felt tacked on. Filmmakers often have to lose otherwise-solid material to keep the narrative from getting muddled, but at 90 minutes, it’s not like the movie was running long; it could have used some structural help and remained tight. One gets the feeling that an overly-insecure executive producer forced the filmmakers to make some cuts at the expense of the story. If that’s true, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time this has happened, but it keeps The Condemned from being anything more than a horror fan’s curiosity.

 

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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.