Following a series of made for TV and straight-to-DVD titles, Víctor García put his name on the horror film map by directing the ninth installment to the Hellraiser franchise, Hellraiser: Revelations. However, probably not in the manner he would prefer, as the press/reception that was received was mainly negative. While most of his former work is based off previous titles (House on Haunted Hill, 30 Days of Night, Mirrors), his latest film, The Damned (formerly Gallows Hill), sees García working on fresh material.
With his daughter refusing to return for his upcoming wedding, David Reynolds (Peter Facinelli), along with his bride-to-be Lauren (Sophia Myles), embark on a trip to Colombia to bring her home. Plans are changed, however, when a storm forces their car off road. Stranded, the reconnected family is forced to take refuge in a dilapidated, old inn. Almost immediately, the family realizes there is more to the inn than meets the eye and it isn’t long before the family discovers the innkeeper’s secret: he is keeping a girl locked in the basement. Subduing the elderly innkeeper and letting the girl free, it would seem that their problems are over, but as luck would have it…they are only just beginning. From here, the film spirals quickly into a story of witchcraft and possession, with an ending darker than American audiences may be used to.
While the story itself isn’t terribly original, following suit with many of the possession films of recent past, The Damned is hardly an unnecessary production. To start, García’s direction is strong. He has a solid visual eye, with much of the film’s tension easily built through the use of camera movements and claustrophobic compositions. The film doesn’t resort to—like many of its contemporaries—a tiresome barrage of jump-scares, but builds brooding tension to create a sense of fright.
The script is strong enough, but mainly serves as a backdrop to create a sense of connection to the characters. Nothing here hasn’t been done before—an affluent and jealous daughter, soon-to-be-remarried widower/father haunted by the death of his former love, the father’s selfless new love interest—but the ways that the film utilizes these tropes creates a sense of novelty from convention. One aspect that sets The Damned above other modern possession films is the speed into which it propels into the main action. Where many dark, psychological horror films (especially ones pertaining to possession) are victim to rigorous exposition, The Damned begins swiftly. The film sets up the backstory by using the spirit of the possessed as a device to reveal the characters’ histories, secrets as the film progresses. So while the audience understands the basic relationships between the members of the group from the start, their full motivations are often unknown until the final moments. Ultimately, what makes the film work is the conclusion, which provides a more refreshing alternative to mainstream horror, but you’ll have to see it to find out for yourself.
The Damned isn’t going to revolutionize the horror industry, but what it offers should be more than enough to entertain the average filmgoer. Packed with enough tension to thrust the film forward, a strong cast, and believable special effects—all solidified through García’s strong directorial eye—The Damned is a worthy addition to the ever-growingly more popular possession subgenre. Hopefully, The Damned is a glimpse at the start of a successful horror career for García.
The Damned is available on VOD and opens in theatres nationwide August 29th. For more information please click here.