Studio: RLJ Entertainment
Director: Eli Morgan Gesner
Writer: Eli Morgan Gesner
Producer: Dallas Sonnier, Jack Heller, Jason Sokoloff
Stars: Dylan Penn, Ronen Rubinstein, Genevieve Hudson-Price, Honor Titus, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Lydia Hearst, Jon Abrahams, Perry Yung, Johnny Messner, Michael DeMello, Jordan Gelber, Anthony Chisholm, Americo Tuffy Questell, Nick Damici
The residents of a condemned New York tenement become trapped inside as a strange substance mutates them into aggressive deformities.
Trouble at home becomes so unbearable that it doesn’t take Dante much effort to convince his girlfriend Maya to join him in New York. What Dante neglects to mention is that he doesn’t have a traditional place to live. He and two friends squat in a condemned tenement alongside a less-than-charming assortment of addicts, dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and lunatics.
These are the kind of misfits and miscreants where everyone has a name like Big Foot, Roxy, Hoobler, or Loki. And this is the kind of off-limits building where no one outside seems to notice the comings and goings of 14 people, much less the fact that lights are on, water is running, and garbage is left on the street.
Upstairs, amateur drug manufacturer Cookie busily dumps conspicuously colorful chemicals down drainpipes. Said chemicals create a corrosive concoction whose stench permeates an already vile aroma in the building’s bowels, and whose toxicity gives anyone who touches it pizza cheese bubble pustules. Those putrid pimples quickly turn into Toxic Avenger mutations infecting everyone inside with melting flesh and murderous mania, leaving poor Maya caught in the middle.
Without repentance, but also without redemption, “Condemned” is repulsive, both intentionally and unintentionally. At the film’s Screamfest 2015 post-screening Q&A, writer/director Eli Morgan Gesner proclaimed that his sole goal was to make a “fun” movie. If watching a hulking Hasidic Jew beat a transsexual hooker or a neo-Nazi forcing his WWE-physique sex slave in tighty-whities to drink piss out of a dog bowl qualifies as “fun,” then Gesner and I have very different definitions of the word.
Never has a film been unenjoyable enough to warrant walking out of a theater mid-movie, but “Condemned” fought hard to be my first. What made this particular screening unusually interesting was the presence of Sean Penn and Chris Hardwick in the audience. Penn’s daughter Dylan Penn plays Maya, and her father turned out in support of her feature film debut. Hardwick is engaged to Penn’s co-star Lydia Hearst, and was moderating the post-screening Q&A.
As one character literally falls apart while defecating on a toilet, another vomits directly into the lens, and one more shakes ejaculate off a $20 bill, all I can think is that somewhere sitting behind me is a two-time Oscar-winner watching the same pointlessly disgusting nonsense excessively reference c*cksucking and child molestation. If only I had eyes in the back of my head to see the elder Penn’s reaction when two lusting NYPD officers repeatedly refer to his daughter as a “hot bitch.” It’s a tossup if Q&A host Hardwick had it worse, having to publicly profess enthusiasm whether it was genuine or not since his fiancée is part of the cast.
As for Dylan Penn’s debut, additional acting lessons would not be a waste of time. Nothing about her performance suggests she is ready to break out, though with two extraordinary thespians for parents, benefit of the doubt hopes natural talent is merely untapped. With Gesner being a first-time director and his script limited to archetypal a-holes for characters, no one is in danger of significantly advancing his/her acting craft with “Condemned” anyway.
The bright spots in “Condemned” are masterful makeup effects helmed by Brian Spears, who also turned in outstanding work on “The Mind’s Eye” (review here), among numerous other projects. Searing skin sores and volcanic pus cannons are some of the subtler gags while multicolored viscous substances of indeterminate origin bathe virtually every interior and exterior of building and bodies alike. If you can tune out everything going on around them, the effects are gruesomely exceptional.
The objective is to be a gross-out, plain and simple. That’s well and good for anyone interested in nothing more and nothing less. From Anthony Chisholm’s weirdo opening monologue to hallucinations visualized cheaply as corrupted streaming video, everything else about the movie is confusedly half-baked.
“Condemned” is an ugly movie populated by ugly personalities. It could have been irreverently fun, but its sense of humor is so slight as to be carelessly cruel. By the time a disemboweled drug addict is seen packing intestines back into his gored torso a second time, intolerable goofiness reaches a level of cartoonish far removed from the tone until that point. If “Condemned” had the spirit of “Evil Dead” or more Troma-like charm, it would play more forgivingly. As is, the carnage is occasionally comical while the setting, characters, and context remain loathsomely bleak.
Review Score: 30