Imagine [REC] peopled with the types of characters you might see in early Frank Henenlotter and John Waters movies, with low-budget attempts at early David Cronenberg-by-way-of-Troma body horror and goo effects, and a dash of David Lynch–homage-on-a-shoestring surrealism thrown in for good measure, and you might come close to guessing what it’s in store for viewers with the horror film Condemned. Wait, that sentence may have made the movie sound better than it actually is . . .
Condemned, written and directed by former skateboarder and Zoo York clothing line cofounder Eli Morgan Gesner, may be the oddest film I have seen this year. Please note that I didn’t say weirdest or most offbeat. Those are compliments that I save for a different style of film; say The Forbidden Room or Horsehead, for example. Just the oddest. Condemned tries too hard to be strange but that’s just it – you can feel it trying. Most of the humor doesn’t quite get there. Some of the gags work, but the others fall flat.
Dylan Penn, the daughter of Sean Penn and Robin Wright, stars as Maya, a smaller-town girl who leaves her troubled home to live with her rock musician boyfriend Dante, played by Ronen Rubinstein, in New York City. Maya is shocked to see that Dante lives in a dilapidated apartment building that was condemned in the 1970s. She’s also taken aback by his squatting neighbors, including a sadomasochistic gay couple who are accused of being Nazis, a drug cooker, a junkie couple, a decidedly untraditional traditional-looking member of the Jewish faith who has left his wife and child to take up with a transvestite prostitute, and . . . well, you get the point.
Name a bodily fluid or solid that emanates from an orifice and you’re bound to see it here – including, yes, that one. Except for maybe ear wax . . . I don’t think I saw any ear wax, come to think of it. The tenants spew their bodily fluids and waste, along with other chemical compounds, down the building’s plumbing system. Eli Morgan Gesner and cinematographer Richard Henkels take us on tours through these pipes several times. Eventually the funky ingredients make a noxious stew that affects the tenants, turning them into hallucinating, raging killers covered with oozing boils. There’s plenty of gore to go along with the pus and vomit.
If you can get past the absurdities of a condemned building where the electricity and running water work, where some squatters worry that the police will find out people live there because trash is left out on the street yet have no qualms about lights that use the aforementioned electricity presumably being visible from outside, and a character whose main shtick in the film is to take bloody dumps, you’ll be treated to Dante and Maya trying to escape the unexpectedly locked-up building as the tenants go after them, as well as each other. Astute readers may have guessed that a Jewish person vs. Nazi showdown might be part of the proceedings. You can also look forward to two sentences in French uttered by someone off camera after a stabbing. There’s also a social commentary monologue on how Manhattan has become a “gated community” bereft of “artistes.” If you enjoy random “What am I watching?” fare, Condemned might be what you’re looking for.
The acting is generally pretty good. Dylan Penn is patently watchable as our heroine, and Ronen Rubinstein acquits himself well, too. The supporting cast make their outre characters uncomfortably believable.
Eli Morgan Gesner seems to have had one or two notebooks full of ideas for his first movie, and decided to use them all in about 80 minutes. This is one of the biggest problems with Condemned and I felt a “throw it on the wall and see what sticks” approach at times. Gesner’s direction has a certain flair, though, and he is ably assisted by cinematographer Richard Henkels. The art direction and set design give the apartment building an appropriately gritty, grimy feeling, and you may well feel like you need a shower after watching this flick.
For all its shortcomings, Condemned is a flawed movie, but not a truly bad one, and I’d guardedly recommend it as worth a watch. You’ll definitely see things you haven’t seen before even though the basic story is nothing new. Personally I won’t be giving it any repeat viewings, but it is bizarre enough and full enough of bravado to try once.
Condemned: (2.5 / 5)
RLJ Entertainment will release CONDEMNED in theaters and Digital HD on Friday, November 13th.