Review: Condemned (RLJ Entertainment Blu-Ray)

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Condemned‘s most interesting contribution to horror cinema is that it features the music of Cerebral Ballzy and that band’s frontman, Honor Titus, in a secondary role. Instead of actually watching Condemned, though, one could just go get Cerebral Ballzy’s newest album, Jaded & Faded (released in 2014), and listen to Titus in his true environment: yelling about skating, cutting class, and drinking a lot (most likely with his shirt off). Eli Morgan Gesner’s film – he both wrote and directed it – never manages to get to the same frenetic heights as the punk rock band that it casually references, even though it often evokes some of the best splatter flicks of the ’80s; similar to 2013’s Septic ManCondemned likes to present the grossest fluids of the human body as much as possible, taking cues from Street Trash and The Stuff.

But there’s a reason that those films are heavily emulated by newer films that fail to capture their essence: making a gross-out horror comedy is hard, not just with the special effects but with a plot that actually makes some sense. Condemned has the sight gags down, but they’re combined with a nonsensical plot that borders on inanity and, more importantly, has no substance. Gesner’s script is moronic, and he’s admittedly taking inspiration from Troma films that were also pretty stupid, but none of Condemned feels as fun or interesting.

Gesner centers on a condemned apartment building and the people who call it home. They’re not supposed to be living there, but since no one knows about it, these vagrants, drug addicts, and sadomasochists are able to do their dirty work there while dumping gross stuff down the drains. Condemned follows Maya (Dylan Penn) in particular, a girl who moves into the condemned building because she can’t put up with her parents’ fights anymore. It seems like verbal fighting might be a better alternative to living with junkies and violent criminals, but who am I to judge?

Gesner wants to characterize every person in the building to some degree, but his attempts to hone in on each of them backfire. Ultimately, the moments the film spends on defining who these people are are wasted scenes, because they don’t add much to the meat of the plot. There’s a guy who makes fortune cookies filled with heroin; there are two dudes caught up in sadomasochism with a weird ideology that Condemned doesn’t explain; there are real life junkies that our heroine Maya seems to idolize, at least because they have cool clothes. Gesner spends a lot of the first half of the film alternating between all of them, but nothing really comes of it, and it later feels like a ploy just to have a lot of odd violent characters turning into oozing crazies.

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Condemned requires the viewer to put aside any expectation that the characters will react in rational ways, too. Maya thinks it’s fun to live in some bummy condemned building even after being physically assaulted by Gault (Johnny Messner); even when people begin to get sick and develop terrible pus bubbles, all of the residents refuse to go to the police because they might lose their free home. While Gesner’s film tends to shirk believability for grotesque body violence, the entire premise of Condemned is flawed and ridiculous even at the beginning of the film, leaving the plot to go nowhere – and ensuring that the audience doesn’t care enough about the people living in the condemned building to actively root for them.

But Condemned does have some good special effects, and a nice recurring shot of a camera zooming through the pipelines of the building. The gore effects are gross, and the film has everything from piss to cum to puke as far as bodily fluids are concerned. It’s unfortunate that these are squandered with a finale that just drags on and on – Maya and her boyfriend run from infected crazies throughout the building, eventually into the sewer systems, but there’s no satisfying conclusion or theme Gesner explores.

One wishes Gesner could have found a more compelling storyline, or at least one that didn’t stretch the viewer’s beliefs so much. The final outcome is a movie that revels in its grossness and nothing more, and that just doesn’t cut through the splatter shlock, especially when it’s such a trivial 80 minutes.

Special Features

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RLJ Entertainment has released Condemned on Blu-Ray with 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Quality is good, and the sound is rocking a DTS HD Master 5.1 that makes pretty good use of the surround sound, as well as subtitles. Bonus features include a 42nd Street Mode for audio track, which allows viewers to listen to the film with audience audio commentary. That’s an interesting idea and probably a better watch than the film alone. Also included are trailers at the beginning of the disc for other RLJ features, cast interviews about making the picture, an Entertainment Tonight Canada special, and a cast table read-through of the entire script. I also received a package of trading cards for the film that are pretty nice. That’s a surprising number of features, and it does add some extra value to a mediocre film.

Oh hey, I’m giving my copy away. If this sounds like your cup of tea, enter to win!

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