'The Damned': Film Review

The Damned Still - H 2014
Mauricio Valencia

The Damned Still - H 2014

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

A group of hapless travelers stuck in a rundown inn in Columbia find themselves battling for their lives when they inadvertently set a witch free

There’s a lesson to be learned from new horror film The Damned. If you happen upon a deserted, dilapidated inn in the middle of a torrential downpour and its elderly, mysterious proprietor tells you not to leave the room, then you really shouldn’t leave the room.

But horror movie tropes demand that people act in unreasonable ways, so that’s exactly what the group, including the American David (Peter Facinelli, Twilight), his British fiancee Lauren (Sophia Myles), his teenage daughter Jill (Nathalia Ramos), her aunt Gina (Carolina Guerra) and Jill’s boyfriend Ramon (Sebastian Martinez) do when they find themselves stranded in Columbia. They soon find a pitiful young girl, Ana Maria (Julieta Salazar), locked in the basement and free her. And that’s when all hell breaks loose.

As might be deduced from the generic title (changed from the more colorful Gallows Hill), the little girl is not who she initially seems. It turns out that she’s the old man’s (Gustavo Angarita) daughter, and also a bruja, or witch, with the survivalist ability to possess the spirit of any hapless soul who makes the mistake of killing the body she currently inhabits.  

It’s a fairly ingenious concept that director Victor Garcia (Hellraiser: Revelations) exploits with frequent spine-chilling results. Scarily played by the talented young Salazar, whose dead-eyed facial expressions will haunt you in your sleep, the character follows in the tradition of The Exorcist’s Regan and her myriad successors, especially with her raspy demonic voice and uncanny ability to exploit human weakness.

The screenplay by Richard D’Ovidio is less successful in terms of character definition and plot development, with the sketchy narrative often suffering from expositional gaps and clunky, cliche-ridden dialogue. But there’s undeniable fun to be had in watching the ever-resourceful witch leapfrogging from body to body as the mortality rate rises, offering gleefully wicked comments with each new possession.

Tautly orchestrated within its single setting and photographed and edited for maximum shock value, The Damned never really rises above its standard conventions. But its fast pacing and sheer air of conviction make it a better than average example of its overworked genre.

Production: Launchpad Productions, A Bigger Boat, RCN Films & e-nnovva, Bowery Hills Entertainment

Cast: Peter Faninelli, Sophia Myules, Nathalia Ramos, Carolina Guerra, Sebastian Martinez, Julieta Salazar, Gustavo Angarita, Juan Pablo Gamboa

Director: Victor Garcia

Screenwriter: Richard D’Ovidio

Producers: Peter Block, Andrea Chung, David Higgins

Executive producers: Mauricio Ardila, Julian Giraldo

Director of photography: Alejandro Moreno

Editors: Etienne Boussac, Jose Luis Romeu

Production designer: Asdrubal Median

Composer: Frederik Wiedmann

Rated R, 88 minutes