PLOT: Upon squatting in a foully dilapidated tenement in the lower east side of Manhattan, a young girl and her boyfriend are slowly exposed to a noxious virus that turns their neighbors into violent, flesh-rotting demons.
REVIEW: Following the 2009 documentary CONCRETE JUNGLE and some consultant work on HBO's short-lived series HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA as the only credits to his name, narrative newcomer Eli Morgan Genser embarks on his inaugural fiction film with CONDEMNED, a monotonous micro-moneyed mess that offers little more than rancid trough of vilely revolting waste. And that's being kind. A shame really, as a promising but ultimately marginalized subtext about unlivable modern day Manhattan - a topically poignant issue - could have been addressed far more honestly and affectively without sacrificing the scares. Alas, such commentary is trashed for a fetid, bile-drenched bombardment of attempted shock-and-awe that, nary a true terror, has all the damning value of the very building the movie is solely set in. The long and short of it...CONDEMNED ought to stay boarded up and sealed off from the general public for good!
As it rolls, we meet Maya (Dylan Penn) and her boyfriend Dante (Ronen Rubinstein) on the Lower Eastside streets of Manhattan. Dante is coaxing his gal to move into the condemned building he's been squatting in with a few pals, an idea the spoiled little rich girl is thrilled about. Yeah right. That is, until she sees the graffiti-laced hipster interior and falls so in love with the joint she's ready to peel off the garb and get loose at once. But it doesn't last. Soon, through an interconnected drainage system, we meet a priceless menagerie of junky lowlife tenants. There's Vince (Jon Abrahams) and Tess (Lydia Hearst), a pair of dopers using the place to shoot up and tune out. We have a pair of muscled-up Neo-Nazi queens - Gault (Johnny Messner) the dominant, Murphy (Michael DeMello) the submissive. Onto Bigfoot (Jordan Gelber), a grossly sweaty, smack-shooting bloat and his tricking tranny sex-slave Roxy (Kevin Smith Kirkwood) looking for their next hit. There's Loki (Honor Titus) and Alexa (Genevieve Hudson-Price) - a rock-star manqué and his stripper lit-major gal pal. Shynola (Anthony Chisolm) is a diaper-wearing invalid keeping the lights and water on, and Cookie (Perry Yung) is the resident dope-dealer who peddles his product in much sought-after fortune cookies. Yup, poor little Maya won't be too stoked when this odious wake of vultures descends on her perch!
But that they do. When Cookie whips up a raw batch of piss-yellow heroine in his Heisenbergian gas-mask and lab-like apartment, the noxious fumes combine with the moldering garbage heap of the building to create a potently rabid virus. Worse yet, Cookie locks everyone inside - effectively quarantining the place - before hitting the bricks for good. Of course, this soon infects the tenants, morphing each into a disgusting, puke-sucking, puss-bubbling demon who, without discrimination, begin to attack one another with enraged bursts of ultra-violence. Too bad we care not one iota for any of these of despicable characters, including our so-called heroine Maya. There's not one person you want to side with, latch on to or for a moment ride alongside. There's just varying degrees of revulsion, with an array of ugly and unlikeable people outdueling each other for off-putting supremacy. It'd be one thing if there were legitimately frightening stints to balance out the sickness, but there aren't many if any at all. No, the 77 minute film ultimately digests into a chewed-up charnel house of regurgitated horror tropes and unearned bouts of violence that make no real difference in regards to our sympathy for the plight of its characters.
Which, to me, is a squandered opportunity. Not for nothing, but the current housing climate in major metropolis areas like Manhattan, San Francisco, London, Montreal, etc. is downright grim in terms of how uninhabitable they've become for the very folks who molded these cities to begin with. And given the grave reality of such, the subject could have provided a really rich backdrop to paint an equally, if not germane, mortifying horror picture. Instead, CONDEMNED boasts one lazily pedantic diatribe late in the film about Manhattan becoming a gated-community and that's why the characters are forced to find shelter in a crumbling toxic dumpsite. A sentiment I agree with. But here it's a weakly made case, which, given the dire real life circumstances surrounding the issue, really could have been more sturdily founded and expounded upon. Hell, even the gal spewing such does with a meat-clever jutting from her f*cking forehead. Can't be taken seriously. Astronomical rent wages, environmental classism, ghost-apartments, giant corporate tech takeovers...these are bona fide concerns that unnerve many city folk who're grinding it out day to day. If handled more seriously and with the urgency it deserves, perhaps the terrifying turmoil of the characters would be more empathetic.
As it is, CONDEMNED ultimately aggregates as a repulsive piss-ridden, vomit-sodden bore. None of the characters are at all likeable, which makes all the repellant bodily fluids and sick slovenly environs downright unpleasant to sit through. Worse yet, there aren't very many scary moments of note to lean upon. Sure, there's some decent carnage in the final 20 minutes or so, but none of it feels terribly realistic, or even terms of the story itself, very well earned. The finale simply becomes a free-for-all, every infected man and woman for themselves...no common assailant they can all rally around and fend off together. Where's the rooting cause? Nowhere. Instead, we're interned inside a prison of regurgitated bilge, where one ugly horror note after another punctuates buckets of projectile yellow bile. Not very fun. Leave this one vacant folks, CONDEMNED ain't an open house worth peeing!