abandoned inns, alternate title, Carolina Guerra, cinema, Evil Dead, evil kids, Fallen, father-daughter relationships, film reviews, films, Gallows' Hill, Gustavo Angarita, Hellraiser: Revelations, isolated estates, isolation, Juan Pablo Gamboa, Julieta Salazar, Movies, Nathalia Ramos, Peter Facinelli, possession, rainforests, Richard D'Ovidio, Sebastian Martinez, self-sacrifice, set in South America, Sophia Myles, Tatiana Renteria, The Damned, The Evil Dead, Victor Garcia, witches
Here’s a little advice for all you fine folks, free of charge: should you ever find yourself in some fundamentally creepy location like, say, an abandoned inn in the middle of the Columbian rain forest, do not – I repeat, do not – attempt to free any strange, emotionless children who appear to be locked inside small cells covered in occult symbols and writing. At the very least, you might be interfering with some sort of extreme time-out scenario. Worst case? You might actually be unleashing an all-powerful, unstoppable witch onto the general populace. Now, wouldn’t that just make you feel like a big, ol’ jackass?
Good advice, to be sure, but advice that doesn’t seem to have made it to the characters in Victor Garcia’s The Damned (2013): they end up at that creepy inn, they let loose the creepy girl and, as often happens, they reap plenty of Hell in the process. While the scenario may be slightly musty, Garcia’s film is an atmospheric enough little chiller that features a handful of suitably creepy scenes, plenty of by-the-book jump scares and enough references to classic genre fare like The Evil Dead (1981) and Fallen (1998) to prove that the filmmaker’s done his research. While The Damned won’t necessarily blow anyone away, it’s a more than suitable entry in this particular sub-genre and worth at least a watch.
The evil presence, in this case, is a long-dead witch by the name of Elena. Elena, even for a witch, is a pretty nasty piece of work: she can’t be killed, knows everyone’s deepest, darkest secrets and can “jump” into a new host whenever her current body is killed. Since Elena can’t be killed, the only recourse is to keep her locked away, forever, in a magically protected wooden box. When we first meet the witch, she’s been imprisoned in the body of a young girl, in said creepy, abandoned inn, watched over by her father, Felipe (Gustavo Angarito) for as long as he continues to live.
As often happens in these situations, a bunch of American tourists end up wrecking the party for everyone. David (Peter Facinelli) and his fiance, Lauren (Sophia Myles), have traveled to Bogata, Columbia, in order to pick up David’s wayward daughter, Jill (Nathalia Ramos), and return her to the States for their wedding. Jill is in Columbia hanging out with her aunt, Gina (Carolina Guerra), a local reporter and sister to David’s deceased wife, Marcela (Tatiana Renteria) and has no interest in attending the wedding: she misses her “real” mom and views Lauren as a “gold-digging bitch”…clearly, no love lost here. After it’s revealed that Jill has left her passport at Gina’s house, the group, along with Gina’s camera-man, Ramon (Sebastian Martinez), decides to go get it, despite the torrential rains that are currently causing flooding everywhere.
Sure enough, the group attempts to cross a flooded-out wash and almost get killed for their troubles when their van is washed away in a truly thrilling bit of outdoor survival action. Regrouping, they manage to make it to the aforementioned creepy, abandoned inn, where they meet the aforementioned Felipe. When the group ignores Felipe’s warnings and explores the inn, they end up finding the sinister, imprisoned Ana Maria (Julieta Salazar), who may look like a little girl but is something far older and more deadly. As the group falls pray to the witch’s spirit, one by one, the ancient evil jumps from one to the next. As their numbers dwindle, the survivors are left to figure out who is now possessed and how, if at all, they’ll be able to excise themselves from this nightmare. Elena, as it turns out, has a plan and each and every “innocent” soul will play its own part.
Lest it seem that the above review is a tad “spoilery,” let me assure you that the film does nothing to hide any of the inevitable revelations about Ana Maria’s true identity: at no point is there ever any doubt that the young girl is evil, even if it takes us a little while to get the full backstory. From the very time we see young Julieta Salazar, with her blank, expressionless eyes and lack of emotion, we should know what we’re getting into: I can’t imagine anyone but honest-to-god horror “newbies” being surprised by any of the film’s twists or revelations, right down to the supposed “shocking twist” ending. Unlike other films that keep audiences guessing as to whether the evil is genuine or not, The Damned throws all its cards on the table the first time Ana Maria uses one of those stereotypical “gravely demon voices” to taunt Felipe. Again, if you’re surprised by this, you really weren’t paying particularly good attention in the first place.
Despite its over-familiarity, however, The Damned is actually a pretty good film: it’s not great, mind you, but the acting tends to be pretty sturdy, the effects are nicely realized (although the hokey CGI storm clouds are real head-smackers) and it’s got some killer locations: you really can’t beat an abandoned inn in the middle of the rain forest as far as creepy places go. The witch’s backstory is also nicely realized and provides a nice counterpoint to more generic horror origin stories: it’s nothing particularly original, mind you, but it also hasn’t been beaten to death (at least yet). Garcia manages to come up with some nicely atmospheric scenes, such as the first time we see the creepy basement area, and balances this atmosphere with some more traditional jump scares (stuff like closing the open fridge door to reveal someone standing there, etc…). There also seem to be quite a few references to Sam Raimi’s classic Evil Dead here, too: everything from the large trapdoor that hides the basement to the “Deadite”-esque demon voices and possessions seem to directly reference the granddaddy of “cabin in the woods” horrors.
For the most part, Garcia is known for films like Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007), Mirrors 2 (2010) and Hellraiser: Revelations (2011), which is easily one of the worst films in a pretty wretched series. With that kind of back catalog, The Damned easily stands out as a high-water mark, if for no other reason than it bears the distinction of not being a direct-to-video sequel to previously established franchises. He gets good performances from his cast, for the most part, with Nurse Jackie’s Peter Facinelli faring the best as the father trying desperately to save his family and Gustavo Angarita faring the worst as the overly angry, shouty Felipe: everyone else falls in between these extremes, although no one really sticks out like a sore thumb.
Ultimately, The Damned is one of those films that plays best on a lazy, rainy weekend when you’ve got nothing better to do than lounge around and watch rain drops race down the window pane. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before (and, in many cases, better) but that doesn’t change the fact that Garcia’s film is eminently watchable and engaging enough to keep viewers hooked til the end. In an era when possession films seem to rule the horror film roost, it’s always nice to see something that takes a route slightly less traveled, even if marginally so.
Just remember: if you find that creepy little girl, leave her right where she is…no good deed ever goes unpunished.