April 12, 2018 Condemned (Movie Review)
Originally called God’s Acre, but changed names for release, the new title, Condemned, fits the story a little better. However, it does make the film sound more generic, sticking it between a beloved video game (Condemned: Criminal Origins 2005) and WWE Studios’ Battle Royale-esque bombs (The Condemned 2007, The Condemned 2 2015) on IMDB. It might have been better off sticking to its guns in this case, but regardless of title, Condemned found its way to VOD on Tuesday, April 10, 2018 thanks to Uncork’d Entertainment.
That said, it is not fair to judge a film by its cover. Fancy names can only take a film so far, otherwise 1965’s Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes would be the greatest film on Earth (spoilers: it is not even that good). It received 3 Filmmaker Award nominations at the International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema in 2016, and one award for Best Costume. The film was also nominated for Best UK Feature at the Raindance Film Festival back in 2015. So, it has built up some buzz over 3 years. But, is this offering from Bete Noir Films and Tone Film Production worth the hype? Or should Uncork’d Entertainment have left it alone?
Written and directed by J.P Davidson (Brackenmore 2016), it is about a man called Malcolm (Matthew Jure: Waking the Dead series, The Pugilist 2017). He used to be a high-flying property developer until the recession hit. Then he had nothing but debts to pay off, and only one run-down shack in his name. He has to fix it up enough to attract a buyer and pay off what he has left. But, its walls hide a terrible secret.
One man’s life falling apart to the point where he is living in a London slum, reduced to booze by crippling debt. It sounds like something from Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies 1996, Topsy-Turvy 1999) or Ken Loach (The Wind That Shakes the Barley 2006, I, Daniel Blake 2016). Premises like these have been a fixture of British cinema since it opened its first studios.
The difference here is that Condemned has thrown a little Edgar Allan Poe into the mix. Malcolm’s growing paranoia over what is in his house is slightly similar to 1843’s The Tell-Tale Heart. He could just be going mad, or there is something there. He fears staying indoors, but he also fears the outdoors because of his social drama. The film balances these two elements out rather well too, as one swells up while the other recedes. One moment Malcolm is dealing with a debt collector, then the next he has his nightmares to contend with.
The social drama is handled largely through dialogue, while the horror is dealt through quick cuts, muffled vocals, and slow reveals. The way it teases its terror brings in some satisfying chills and gruesome shocks. They may be traditional techniques, but it makes an effective thriller out of them over something campy like 2017’s Dementia 13 remake. It also helps that Condemned has some strong performances, especially from Jure as he does a convincing portrayal of someone going through a downward spiral.
There is little to find fault with. There is a scene between Malcolm and his Debt Collector Sonny (Richard Pepple: Beasts of No Nation 2015, Damilola, Our Loved Boy 2016) that is good. The problem is that it repeats information told to the audience through a voiceover in the intro. It might have been better to ease up on the voiceover details and let the scene speak for itself. There is also a later scene that, while good, has a payoff that is perhaps too subtle. It might be hard to notice unless viewers look closely at the screen.
However, Condemend’s strengths outweigh its faults. It is a chilling drama that balances its tensions well, and keeps the audience guessing right up until the end. Jure’s Malcolm is equal parts sympathetic and condemnable through both his performance and the writing. The camerawork and sound design is also on top form, delivering the story just as effectively as the script, if not more so. It is worth giving a go, and that is why CrypticRock gives Condemned 4.5 out of 5 stars.