With no apparent shame, The Damned recycles a gallery of overused horror tropes: a vacationing extended family, an off-the-grid inn, a gnatty-haired girl locked away in the basement, cockroaches scampering across heinous figurines, “some kind of ancient language” scrawled on scummy walls, pitch-shifted demon voices emerging incongruously from human mouths. It would possibly be sufficient to leave it at that, but as far as the remotely specific aspects of this 3,200-kelvin nightmare go, we’re somewhere in Colombia and the vacationers are a mix of locals and visiting Americans (for no discernible reason other than perhaps to pad the runtime with constant translations, if not because Bogotá is cheap to shoot in). Torrential rain, warnings from a native police officer, and a near-fatal landslide aren’t enough to dissuade the bunch from taking the scenic route to retrieve Jill Reynolds’s (Nathalia Ramos) passport. Having leveraged her bank activity to locate her position, Jill’s arguably overly suspicious father, David (Peter Facinelli), has spontaneously intruded on her international sojourn to wrangle her back to America.
Of course, no one’s getting home as planned from the ominously named Gallows Hill—the setting as well as alternate title for the film, which means the filmmakers considered the comparatively insipid The Damned a better way to separate their generic bloodcurdler from the pack. An exposition dump of a first act finds director Víctor García failing to casually reveal how the ensemble—rounded out by David’s fiancée, Lauren (Sophia Myles), Jill’s boyfriend, Ramón (Sebastian Martínez), and the sister of David’s late spouse, a saucy Colombian reporter named Gina (Carolina Guerra)—is haunted by past tensions, the most conspicuous of which is the recent death of David’s wife. Bad scripting leaves the details of this trauma ambiguous, though the implication is that David’s neglect or cowardice led indirectly to her premature end. But it’s apparently enough of a sore spot among the characters that, when all hell breaks loose at the inn halfway through, the series of demonic possessions that result—the majority of which take the form of ferocious women—are all linked back thematically to this defining mishap, in addition to other peripheral past sins apparently worth being slaughtered by an evil spirit over. “God is punishing you and your family for what they did,” growls the didactic demon at one point, the final hint that the transparently sinister Ana Maria (Julieta Salazar) was probably not worth the rescue.
From its first draw of blood onward, The Damned bolts down a foreseeable slasher-movie trajectory, laying on thick the dramatic irony while constantly inventing new reasons to punish its characters for old iniquities. Along the way, it emits fraudulent ripples of The Exorcist, Alien, The Ring, Evil Dead—hell, the film’s even derivative of already derivative recent entries in the horror canon like Silent House. García’s approach is a by-the-numbers madhouse of backward sound effects, smash cuts to skeletons, lethargic following shots that play on what the characters don’t see, and behind-the-curtain POV shots where the POV is unknown. Excessively underexposed in cadaverous shades, his film is also ugly to look at, but ugliest of all is the misogyny creeping through its severe moralism. In theory, The Damned concerns the demons of the past returning as literal demons; in practice, it quickly looks like a mere string of crazy females feigning seduction tactics to get quick fixes of human bloodshed.