★ / ★★★★
“Condemned,” written and directed by Eli Morgan Gesner, is composed of busy-ness and noise, a very tired and lazy attempt at gross-out horror. It is almost without humor and so the experience is not only suffocating but also depressing in look, atmosphere, and tone. Given its many similarities with pictures such as Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s “[REC]” and the remake “Quarantine,” directed by John Erick Dowdle, this work does not pale in comparison but one that disappears completely.
Maya (Dylan Penn) is convinced by her boyfriend to move out of her affluent home in the suburbs because her parents are always fighting. The decision to move in with her beau proves unwise, however, when Maya discovers that he is squatting in a building in New York City, one that has been abandoned since the ‘70s. People who live in the apartment building range from drug dealers, addicts, and prostitutes to those with severe emotional and psychological problems. Soon, the residents are driven to murder when various chemicals in the plumbing system interact, react, and spread via fluids.
It might have worked if we were given a strong female protagonist. Instead, Maya is a weakling, one who does nothing but cling onto her boyfriend, run, and scream. We learn nothing noteworthy about her life back in the suburbs, who she is as a person, not even her hopes and dreams for the future. As a result, we are forced to follow this empty-headed, vapid human being for no good reason. I actually wished for the character to become infected sooner than everyone else. That might could have turned out to be a better movie because the writer-director would have been forced to be more creative.
Although likely to be accidental because the lack of control from behind the camera is apparent in just about every chase scene, the manner in which the picture is shot is effective occasionally. I liked the way certain spaces like a hallway, a bathroom, or a closet feel as though they are folding into themselves the more they are revisited. However, these moments are too few and evanescent. Less discerning eyes or those who simply wish to be entertained are likely to miss them.
It is difficult to appreciate the makeup of warts and boils as well as the special effects, from projectile vomiting to severed limbs, because the lighting is often poor. This is an egregious miscalculation because the point of gross-out horror is to showcase these elements. It is as if Gesner did not understand his own material or he simply did not care too much. And if the artist doesn’t care, then why should we?