Eli Morgan Gesner’s Condemned combines exaggerated characters, gruesome violence, great special effects, and dark humor to make a film that is as fun as it is gross.
The film is about Maya (Dylan Penn), your typical poor little rich girl who’s listened to one too many of her parents’ fights and decides to run away to live with her rocker boyfriend Dante. Nothing we haven’t seen before. What Maya doesn’t know is that Dante lives in a condemned building with a couple bandmates, several decades’ worth of garbage and decay, and a slew of people from the dregs of society.
The first half of the movie is spent getting to know these characters in all their squalor. A sampling of the characters includes an ex-model junkie, a transsexual prostitute, a sadistic neo-Nazi, and a man we only ever see on the toilet. On the top floor is Cookie, a man who is making drugs for what appears to be the Russian mob, and at the entrance is Shynola, the “manager” of the building.
I quite enjoyed getting to know these characters. They were all horrible in different ways, and while they didn’t always make sense they were definitely interesting. While getting to know them we are given glimpses of Cookie making his drugs, packaging them nicely in fortune cookies, and giving them to the residents of the building. In a throwback to Evil Dead, we travel to the various characters as a whooshing wind sound through the drainpipes.
As much as I enjoyed it, the movie does suffer from pacing issues. So much time is spent introducing all of the tenants and their relationships that it’s 40 minutes in before you remember you’re watching a horror movie. Sure, there are small glimpses of it: pustules that appear on the skin, multicolored bodily emissions, small outbursts of violence. But nothing truly horrific. You could just be watching a drama about the lives of some gross, down-on-their-luck people who are getting by any way they can.
The second half of the movie takes a turn. Unlike similar films like Rec, which spreads its violence out, once the action starts in Condemned it does not stop. It is unclear why the horror begins, whether it is Cookie’s drugs or the miasma of garbage and filth that the building exudes, but Dante and Maya are put under near constant attack. Vomit and pus and blood assault them from every side while people are trying to kill them. And though the gore does get cheesy at times, the make-up is spectacular.
Maya may be the main character of the film, but you really root for Dante. This is due to Ronen Rubinstein’s performance. He portrays Dante as very steadfast and likeable; and even though he is the most regular guy in the movie he was one of the most interesting characters. While I do like my strong horror movie heroines, it is nice to see the more recent pattern of men in horror films who are not complete boneheads. Another standout is Anthony Chisholm as Shynola, whose temperament ranges from “grumpy old man next door” to outright creepy. The rest of the characters mostly stay true to stereotype, and it is incredibly fun to watch them run around crazy and get killed in ridiculous ways.
To see all this and more go watch Condemned, available on VOD and in theaters November 13, 2015.