Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Damned: The Witch in Pandora’s Box

When you see a little girl in a horror movie, run for all your lungs are worth. Unfortunately, the Reynolds family does not realize they are in a fright flick. Sure, they are stranded in an old decrepit hotel in the middle of nowhere, but they are initially too preoccupied with their passive aggressiveness in Victor García’s The Damned (a.k.a. Gallows Hill, trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Following his wife’s death, David Reynolds’ relationship with his daughter Jill has been strained. She makes no secret of her lack of enthusiasm for his upcoming marriage to Lauren and receives plenty of encouragement for her petulant acting-out from her hot aspiring journalist Aunt Gina. Determined to drag her back to America for the wedding, the Reynolds must take a major detour to retrieve her passport, because roaming around Colombia without papers is such a good idea for international travelers. Of course, a torrential storm and a highway mishap forces them to take refuge in an ominous boarded up resort that now only houses creepy old Felipe and the little girl he has locked in the basement cell.

When they inevitably discover innocent looking Ana Marie, he warns them not to listen to her evil lies, but they do. Needless to say, Felipe is soon proved correct. It turns out the spirit of a witch executed on Gallows Hill was possessing his daughter and is now out for revenge against the descendants of her executioners.

At first, The Damned looks like a Colombian riff on Charles Beaumont’s classic “Howling Man” Twilight Zone episode, but it also takes elements from Gregory Hoblit’s underrated Fallen and gives them a good twist. In fact, the whole system of possession is a rather clever bit of horror movie mechanics. However, the film’s best asset is the incredibly eerie setting. Unlike the Stanley, this is one movie hotel horror fans will not want to visit.

Twilight vampire franchise survivor Peter Facinelli is pretty solid as the exasperated father. He makes a convincing couple with Sophia Myles, who adds some welcome grace and class as the eternally understanding Lauren. On the other hand, Nathalia Ramos’ constantly pouting quickly makes Jill a tiresome eye-roller, while Colombian superstar Carolina Guerra is almost distractingly sultry as Aunt Gina, the supposedly scuffling reporter.

Thanks to cinematographer Alejandro Moreno and production designer Asdrúbal Medina’s team, The Damned is a fine example of how much visual style and ambience can add to horror film. Although García and screenwriter-co-producer Richard D’Ovidio never reinvent the supernatural wheel, they keep it spinning quite effectively. Recommended with confidence for genre fans, The Damned opens this Friday (8/29), late night, at the IFC Center and is currently available on IFC Midnight’s VOD platforms.