Expectations were low going into The Damned. Generic movie title? Check. Director of various straight to dvd horror sequel schlock? Check. Writer of subpar genre titles of yesteryear? All sorts of check.
But I’ll be damned.
The premise doesn’t bring a whole lot of new ideas to the table. A couple, along with their very independent daughter, gets stranded in the middle of a storm and takes refuge in a house in the middle of nowhere. Things go horribly awry and people start dying. See? Nothing too unique about it. In fact, the movie drags for a solid thirty minutes with some nearly unessential exposition. But if you wait it out, things pick up and get interesting.
Richard D’Ovidio hasn’t written anything that’s instantly recognizable but he did write the 2001 Thir13en Ghosts remake and the surprisingly not bad The Call from last year. Where the reboot wasn’t really his own vision and The Call was a thriller with a hint of horror, The Damned brings some solid Mexican lore to the forefront and creates a fun scary monster in the bruja that serves as the main antagonist of the film. It’s been a while since we’ve got a solid scary witch flick and this is a good move in the right direction.
Director Victor Garcia is pretty much in the same boat as D’Ovidio. He’s directed The Return to the House on Haunted Hill and Hellraiser: Revelations. With The Damned, he manages to craft some truly tense moments and creates a creepy atmosphere for his characters to exist in. Randomly throughout the movie the horror and the story will plateau and no movement is made, but the last act is fluid and ramps up to an ending that’s a bit of a surprise. (Although it nearly ended with a bigger one.)
While the meat of the story is original and the direction is good, the acting has some shortcomings. Leads Peter Facinelli and Sophia Myles flip flop back and forth between believable and convincing to blank automatons who shout out their lines as loud as possible. While Juan Gamboa, who plays Officer Morales, manages to make up for some of their mediocrity and add some backstory to the plot, certain points of the movie do end up laughably bad.
The most interesting part of the movie is the tale of the bruja, her lore, and her truly malicious nature. D’Ovidio has created a horror movie monster that ends up being a terrifying creature with a creative and original twist. When the bruja is killed, she takes over the body of her killer, effectively making her immortal. It’s a new idea and adds another level to the progression of the film. Tag teamed with Garcia’s chilling depiction of the witches voice, often speaking in Spanish, makes for a welcome entry into the monster movie stable. The biggest downfall of the movie is that while the monster is a sturdy pillar to lean on, the rest of the movie is pretty much your standard color by numbers horror movie and has only a few truly scary moments. The potential is there but it never treads into new waters, instead staying safe in well worn territory.
The Damned isn’t groundbreaking. It stays close to the path of a conventional horror movie but does so with an original creation. Because of this, along with D’Ovidio’s creative writing, it ends up being a surprisingly enjoyable watch and coming out ahead of any preconceived notions.