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Dustin Putman

Condemned  (2015)
2½ Stars
Directed by Eli Morgan Gesner.
Cast: Dylan Penn, Ronen Rubinstein, Honor Titus, Genevieve Hudson-Price, Lydia Hearst, Jon Abrahams, Anthony Chisholm, Johnny Messner, Michael DeMello, Perry Yung, Michael Drayer, Jordan Gelber, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Tuffy Questell, Kea Ho.
2015 – 83 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of an R for strong gruesome violence and gore, disturbing content, sexual content, drug use and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, January 6, 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.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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