DIRECTED BY: Eli Morgan Gesner
FEATURING: Dylan Penn, Ronen Rubinstein, Johnny Messner, Lydia Hearst, Honor Titus, Jordan Gelber
PLOT: A rich girl runs away to live with her boyfriend in the condemned building he and his bandmate are squatting in; they are accidentally locked in as a virus that turns the residents into pus-faced killers spreads.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: More gross than weird, Condemned plays like a less-insane Street Trash by way of a less-intense [REC].
COMMENTS: Condemned is at its best during the half-hour long setup when it takes us on a tour of the human refuse that inhabit its filthy set: a pair of Nazi bodybuilders in an S&M relationship, a Chinese/Russian drug chemist who peddles his wares packaged in fortune cookies, a Haisidic pimp and his trans hooker, and various other sleazoids. In contrast, there are very few thrills in the by-the-numbers third act chase/massacre or in the anticlimactic finale. First time director Eli Morgan Gesner shows some visual flair—the condemned building is appropriately cluttered and littered with sometimes amusing graffiti (“paranoiac critical”), the rusty drainpipe cam is an idea that works, and the makeup is good for the budget. There are a few imaginative hallucination scenes: one with a flickering gravure idol, and another where a comic book comes to life as the text bubbles grow increasingly disturbing. This style is an important asset, because the script is—let’s face it—just plain bad. Just one example: why is there electricity and running water in a condemned building? (Silly me, I might not have noticed the conundrum, but the screenplay actually brings the issue up without actually explaining how it’s accomplished). It goes without saying that they don’t bother to explain how the virus arises, or why everyone doesn’t just flee out the first floor windows when a contrivance locks them in the building. Absurdity can be a plus, but it either needs to be wielded purposefully, or arise naturally from a rare incompetence. Here, incoherence springs from laziness.
One of the meager draws is debuting starlet Dylan Penn (daughter ofand Robin Wright), who fares about as competently as you would expect. She has scream queen looks—and maybe a scream queen’s taste in projects, too. To her credit, you can’t blame her for abusing mommy and daddy’s connections to land a big Hollywood role she’s unqualified for. She’s legitimately starting out in the gutter.
Those addicted to wallowing in cinemas sewers may want to check Condemned out. Frankly, it’s seldom boring, although it also adds very little to its-esque boilerplate.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The sort of Z-grade oddity Troma used to churn out for a faithful audience, the all-too-aptly-titled ‘Condemned’ won’t find the cult following it desperately craves in today’s crowded marketplace.”–Geoff Berkshire, Variety (contemporaneous)