Condemned is so campily grotesque, that I’m surprised it doesn’t come donning Troma’s seal of approval. The effects suffer from a lack of budget, and the premise is absolutely asinine, but where Troma enjoys making art out of minimal production value, Eli Morgan Gesner can’t quite find the same wacky dynamic.
We’re instead assaulted by a rather lame-duck infection thriller that makes little sense, cares not about coherency, and disrespects the NYPD with cheap, lazy jabs. It’s everyone’s nightmare of leaving home for New York City’s endless opportunities, only instead of renting a scummy, dilapidated apartment, you move into an abandoned building instead. Then it goes all [REC] and turns into a deadly lockdown, as victims are left to die after copious amounts of vomiting, a few puss-filled boil pops, and plenty of defeated head-shaking.
Dylan Penn stars as Maya, rich suburbanite who can’t stand to hear her parents fight anymore. In an act of rebellion, she flees to New York City where her boyfriend Dante (Ronen Rubinstein) is chasing his rockstar dream. Little does Maya know, Dante lives in a condemned apartment building without the government’s knowledge, where he enjoys a rent-free lifestyle. The pad isn’t exactly a Waldorf suite, and their neighbors couldn’t be any stranger, but it’s a little slice of heaven for the united couple – until a pungent gas starts turning everyone into hallucinating killers. They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and I guess the same goes for apartments as well.
Gesner displays fun-filled creativity throughout his sickening plot, as he traverses lands somewhere between blood-drenched Tarantino characterization and the gore of Lloyd Kaufman, but Condemned is a sloppy, slimy mess of ideas without any depth. It starts when Maya runs away from her parents because they fight too much, and then finds herself forgotten by them completely. I guess we’re to assume Maya’s caretakers bickered non-stop the entire time she’s gone, never once trying to contact her out of worry? Right, and that’s just the tip of this rapidly-melting iceberg.
As Maya is introduced to her new neighbors, personalities spin wildly out of control from a speedo-wearing Neo-Nazi named Gault (Johnny Messner), to a lady-boy-loving bear of a man named Bigfoot (Jordan Gelber) – a collection of cartoonish miscreants who strive too mightily for obscurity. The building’s friendly drug dealer, Cookie (Perry Yung), gets a few laughs while dancing spontaneously to some poppy trance tune, and Lydia Hearst embraces her junkie Bonnie and Clyde scenario with strung-out ferocity, but it’s hard to digest too many of the performances here. Without pointing fingers, the hodge-podge of personalities clash so mightily when intercut between scenes, and their depravity becomes thoughtless exploitation instead of fun, B-Movie arctypes. You’ll roll your eyes more than laugh – easiest way I can put it.
It’s a shame, because some of the details had me excited at the possibility of grindhouse-inspired carnage. Take Loki’s (Honor Titus) Gene Simmons replica axe bass guitar, which would come in handy in a vicious attack against infected psychopaths, or Gault’s Gestapo-like intensity shown during Maya’s trash debacle. These moments tease something greater, and while a few kills execute schlocky genre fun (spilled intestines, antler-bone weaponry, eyes dangling out of sockets), nothing grander comes from the evil, the chaos, or the hallucinogenic, reality-distorting poison. Sure, there are gross-out gags in the form of bodily fluids continuing to spill like a Septic Man homage, but “repulsive” doesn’t doubly mean “entertaining,” and strong supporting material doesn’t exist to validate the bodily anarchy.
This is a case of invigorated ideas getting lost in translation – much like the pipe-traveling sequences that become overused after the first few seconds. Condemned tries, I’ll give it that, but it only tries to mimic crazier efforts that have found themselves being heralded by midnight movie crowds. I suppose there’s an ample dosage of social commentary, from the rent being too damn high for young New Yorkers, to living in a corrupt police state (our filmmaker’s expressions, not mine) – but you’re not watching Condemned for the social commentary. Nor does it matter much once a Nazi boot-stomper makes another muscly skinhead drink his freshly tapped urine. It’s surely a type of insane that’s very special, but it just didn’t sit well with this critic – maybe you’re the audience that Eli Morgan Gesner created this debacle for though?
There are some likenesses to Troma's low-budget brand here, but not enough to carve out a unique voice for Condemned's brand of claustrophobic anarchy.