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Dustin Putman

Condemned  (2015)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: January 5, 2016) – "Condemned" is a small film with appreciable scope and ambition—probably not the easiest task when one's narrative is set primarily in a single apartment building. It also is one of the ickiest, goopiest monstrosities to come around in some time, a "[REC]"-esque horror picture wallowing in squalor, bodily functions and a pathogenic viral outbreak turning virtually the whole lot of its characters into rampaging maniacs. Eli Morgan Gesner's feature writing-directing debut isn't without its first-time mistakes—the inclusion of sophomoric comic relief in the form of two pot-smoking cops should have been excised completely from the final edit—but the core world he sets up is one of moody oppressiveness and nightmarish grandeur.

Tired of listening to her parents arguing, 19-year-old Maya (Dylan Penn, daughter of Sean Penn and Robin Wright) escapes the cushy, affluent safety of her beachside home to stay with her slightly older musician boyfriend Dante (Ronen Rubinstein) on Manhattan's Lower East Side. This is not some sweeping romance of plucky young adults conquering all in the Big Apple, though. Instead, Maya is thrust into an urban pit of hell when the ramshackle apartment building Dante and friends Loki (Honor Titus) and Alexa (Genevieve Hudson-Price) are squatting in becomes the epicenter for a deadly contagion emanating from the ceaseless waste dumped down the building's diseased drainage system. As the already scary residents—among them, meth addicts, fetishists, shut-ins and sex workers—begin to go insane as they rot and hallucinate, Maya and Dante find themselves fighting for survival as they desperately try to break free.

Like an ensemble Robert Altman piece by way of Eli Roth, "Condemned" compellingly immerses the viewer in an unthinkably grimy, harrowing way of life, then drags one and all into a figurative netherworld where the only means of escape is very likely death. Maya tries to keep alive her naïve dream of being with her boyfriend in the big city even after she sets eyes on the vile place where he is illegally living. It takes her a long time to admit she is in over her head, and even longer still to realize she doesn't belong there. As the camera burrows through the drains, eavesdropping on the degenerate inhabitants of each apartment, director Gesner creates his own bleak microcosm for society's have-nots. "Condemned" is low-budget and rough-edged, yet surprisingly focused on effectively realizing its hopeless, scuzzy vision. When it's over, a shower most definitely will be in order.

Read Dustin's Theatrical Review

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"Condemned" is visually dark, which doesn't exactly do any favors for its pop-ups of noticeable banding. In most other ways, however, this is an adept 1080p transfer which accurately depicts its sometimes dimensionally flat but appropriately grungy, detailed digital photography. Don't be fooled by the moments of pixilation and macroblocking, either; these are purposefully incorporated as clever, unsettling embodiments of the characters' hallucinations. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is pretty terrific, from the opening music montage as Maya travels into the city to the bombastic third act of carnage. The back channels are superbly used to give the track a heft and immersion, thrusting viewers whether they like it or not inside the story's condemned apartment building where all hell is breaking loose.

Blu-ray Features
  • 42nd Street Mode (Live Audience Commentary)
  • Cast Interviews (16:56, HD)
  • Cast Table Read (1:37:39, HD)
  • TV's "Entertainment Tonight Canada" On-Set Interview with Dylan Penn (2:20, HD)
Bottom Line
"Condemned" received a tiny theatrical release in November 2015 with little to no fanfare, but it should hopefully earn more attention with RLJ Entertainment's Blu-ray release. This isn't a pleasant film, but for those who appreciate uncompromising, tonally grim genre fare with a scrappy creative enthusiasm and distinct vision defying a production's limited budget, it is worth checking out. Recommended.

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© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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