Film Review: The Damned

Arrogant Anglos bull their way through Colombia and stir up bad mojo in this formulaic possession picture dedicated to the proposition that not only is the past not dead, it isn't even past.
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"Some secrets can ruin your life," warns The Damned's portentous voiceover opening, as American widower David Reynolds (Peter Facinelli) braves bad weather and worse luck to retrieve his wayward daughter Jill (Nathalia Ramos), who's hunkered down in Bogota with her hunky boyfriend Ramon (Sebastian Martínez). Jill is boycotting her dad's upcoming wedding to down-to-Earth English nurse Lauren (Sophie Myles) because she's decided—on the basis of no evidence whatsoever—that Lauren is "a gold-digging bitch."
 
David, understandably stressed already, is especially irritated to find that Jill has the tacit support of her aunt, freelance TV journalist Gina (Carolina Guerra), who of all people should understand both how deeply David loved her sister Marcella and how unreasonable it is to expect a man who's barely 40 to spend the rest of his life in solitary mourning. And the icing on the cake is that David's initial plan—to drive Jill straight to El Dorado Airport and book three tickets on the next plane out—is complicated by the fact that Jill has (thoroughly implausibly) left her passport back at her hotel in Medellín, a drive of several hours via narrow, winding roads carved out of vertigo-inducing mountainsides when it's not raining buckets.
 
But the squabbling crew eventually piles into David's rented all-terrain vehicle and sets off. David's heels are dug in and nothing is going to stand in his way, including Captain Morales (Juan Pablo Gamboa), the cop who warns that they should double back and take the main highway: It will take longer, but the mountain roads are prone to flash flooding. So naturally, not long after a flash flood tumbles them off the road, leaving the car a useless wreck and Lauren with a pair of broken ribs.
 
By the time they've hiked their way to the only shelter visible for miles in any direction, they're dead on their feet, soaked to the bone and in no mood to pass on the opportunity to dry off and rest up in a handsome house on a hill that's been converted into an inn, no matter how unfriendly elderly caretaker Felipe (Gustavo Angarita) turns out to be.
 
Naturally, the house on the infelicitously named Gallows Hill, where back in the bad old 17th century priests used to hang witches, positively vibrates with misery, and it goes without saying that there's no cell service and the landlines have all been cut. Is there no end to the creepiness?
 
The short answer: No. And once the visitors discover and release an unkempt, apparently frightened little girl named Ana Maria (Julieta Salazar) from a filthy cell in the basement, all hell—more or less literally—breaks loose.
 
There's nothing especially wrong with The Damned—it's well-acted, demonic children are inherently creepy, and isolation is a great screw-tightener: From Night of the Living Dead to Cabin Fever, genre fans have willingly suffered alongside regular folks suddenly at the mercy of malevolent supernatural forces. But there also isn't anything exceptionally, well…anything about it. The Damned hits all its generic marks, but it's been four decades since the sight of The Exorcist's 12-year-old Regan MacNeil performing lewd acts while mouthing obscenities unbecoming to a minor shocked moviegoers. The Damned could find a niche as part of a Halloween possess-a-thon, but on its own there's just not much to it.

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