Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Victor Garcia
Writer: Richard D’Ovidio, David W. Higgins
Producer: Andrea Chung, David W. Higgins, Peter Block
Stars: Peter Facinelli, Sophia Myles, Nathalia Ramos, Carolina Guerra, Sebastian Martinez, Gustavo Angarita, Juan Pablo Gamboa, Julieta Salazar, Tatiana Renteria
Stranded by a raging storm, a traveling family finds a young girl who may be more than she seems imprisoned in the basement of a remote Colombian inn.
With nothing noteworthy to mention as memorably good or outstandingly bad, “The Damned” is so unremarkably average as a thriller that writing a full-length film review is an almost Herculean challenge. A half-hearted shoulder shrug and muttering “meh” through a yawn would suffice as a succinct critique, yet I’ll make an effort to elaborate regardless.
There may not be a “based on the short story by” acknowledgment in the credits, but “The Damned” is most certainly inspired by Charles Beaumont’s “The Howling Man.” Instead of a wayward traveler seeking refuge from a storm inside a remote European monastery, a wayward family seeks refuge from a storm inside a secluded Colombian inn. Like Beaumont’s protagonist, the family hears the cries of an impassioned voice from a dank room, ignores the cryptic warnings of a grim-faced old man guarding the cell, and frees the sympathetic prisoner locked within. The particular evil entity they let loose is not the devil made flesh however, but a body-swapping witch bent on revenge against the descendants of those who hanged her.
Whereas “The Twilight Zone” managed to tell the same tale in less than thirty minutes as an official “The Howling Man” adaptation, “The Damned” has an additional hour’s worth of runtime to stretch out the story. It does so by piling clichés onto tropes with a by-the-book formula for plot elements and scares that include creepy dolls, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, frights reflected in a mirror, waking suddenly from a nightmare, and ending up in an overturned car after the driver takes his eyes off the road. It appears as though the filmmakers set out to make a fright film with little more than only basic building blocks and an intention to be merely “okay.”
“The Damned” is shot well, and has decent ambitions as fair horror movie entertainment. It is simply that it is an underachieving effort on all fronts.
Set in South America, a significant portion of the film is spoken in Spanish. A casual pace is sure to work just as hard as the subtitles at shortening attention spans of those in need of inspiration to pay attention. More problematic in terms of incentive to stay engaged is a slow-going script reliant on the type of stereotypical character behavior that seasoned audiences are known to groan over. For example, the five people caught in the inn have an injured man and an abused girl to suddenly care for, yet always find ample time to leave either or both of them alone repeatedly so that mayhem can manifest.
Peter Facinelli, still looking and sounding more and more like Tom Cruise with every movie, leads a competent cast turning in serviceable performances. Although with material this milquetoast, there isn’t anything to be done in front of the camera to make “The Damned” rise above mediocre. These are not the kinds of characters that actors long for opportunities to play. These are the types of quickie roles taken as a “good enough” for two weeks work sort of payday.
If the movie were a meal, it would be akin to something off a McDonald’s menu. It resembles food and functions as passable sustenance in a pinch, but it isn’t something worth anticipating and is quickly forgotten shortly after swallowing. You know, the kind of thing you only consume after you’ve exhausted the more attractive options.
Another way to put it is that “The Damned” is the sort of ho-hum horror where some indeterminate amount of time later, your memory will be unable to recall if you actually saw it or not. “The Damned? Was that the one with Peter Facinelli and some witch in a basement? Yeah, I think I kind of remember that.”
NOTE: “The Damned” was previously titled “Gallows Hill.”
Review Score: 50