How often have you been anticipating a movie with such vigour, that when you do actually get to indulge in a screening, it’s a bit disappointing? Well, it was the complete opposite of that circumstance I encountered with a new movie emanating from Columbia, THE SQUAD.

You see I had just been let down, somewhat, by the Nazi Zombie yarn, WAR OF THE DEAD, so the last thing I wanted was more military based Horror. With a runtime of 103 minutes I braced myself for an overstretched picture of asinine proportions. How wrong I was…

Communications with a military base situated in the barren mountains of Columbia have been severed. With the government supposing the base has fallen foul to a terrorist attack, a nine man specialist unit is deployed in order to investigate.

The station shows evidence of being pillaged and abandoned, but the mystery thickens when the group discover a well secreted, sole female prisoner. The peculiar woman is seemingly voiceless and, although frail, the group are divided as to whether unchain her or not.

Their quandary is not helped by some abnormal occult paraphernalia discovered at the site. It is now a crisis starts. Their segregation from the outside world, coupled with the incapacity to even make contact, starts to drain the soldiers reasoning. Paranoia, sickness and self-doubt loom over the group as the unthinkable slowly starts to develop into an ominous newfound reality…

Sometimes a movie comes along that effortlessly engages you with its every frame. The Squad (El Paramo in its native Columbia) is one such movie. The picture easily drew me in with its slow, yet grinding pace, while creating an intoxicatingly bleak atmosphere.

It has an intentionally desolate look which exploits the 2.35 : 1 aspect ratio with ease. Rich colours are sapped from view giving the film an austere aesthetic which again suits the pessimistic mood and subject matter.

Sometimes military based horror tends to get so caught up in the frenzied action, the actual setting and era collapse into irrelevance. Concentrating on the psychological aspect, The Squad suffers no such fate as the viewer is lured into the troop’s predicament with stunning efficiency.

The nine lead men consisting of Ramos, Sargento, Arango, Parra, Fiquitiva, Teniente, Robledo, Ponce (pronounced PON-SAY before you start sniggering!) and Cortez were diverse and hugely believable. It was their performances that conveyed agonizing mental torment so brilliantly without the need for macho Rambo style splurging of ammunition.

The set was an actual military base high on the Columbian mountains. With natural fog in the air and squelching sludge underfoot, the uncompromising environment added another facet to the protagonist’s predicament without patronizing the viewer.

I believe the movie will be granted a 15 certificate and it’s a testament to director Jaime Osorio Marquez for fashioning such a harrowing picture almost devoid of violence.

There is one sequence that normally I would feel cheated for it not being visually gory enough. When a leg has to be coarsely amputated, the camera opts to reveal the sheer horror of the witnessing soldier’s facial expressions as their strength crumbles. It’s the rasping sound effect of the serrated edge grating its way through flesh and bone that does the lion’s share of the work. The brief glimpse we get of the partially sawn limb is surprisingly effective.

It’s this meld of minimal visuals and intense sound that Marquez exploits further as the movie builds to its climax. A pitch black screen and the suffocating resonance of hyperventilation was a deviously simple technique, utilized at the perfect moment.

The fitting conclusion, and subtle diversions entwined within the unravelling narrative meant I was absorbed during, and satisfied after watching this movie. I urge people to give it a go. I think it at least deserves the respect of being viewed before… yep… you guessed it - the rumoured American remake does the rounds! A producer named Scott Lastaiti has allegedly purchased the rights. I will refrain from mounting my soap box about Hollywood rehashes, but I will state quite fervidly that whoever takes this project on truly has their work cut out if they are going to even come close to matching the original. My statement, to a large extent, is quantified by the fleeting "extras" we get on the disc.

A selection of behind the scenes skits reveal the sincere challenges the crew faced when making this picture. After the small matter of permit problems, it was nature’s wrath that tested the fortitudes of everyone connected with the making of the film. Intense cold, high altitudes and real fog played havoc with their health. But it was that very perseverance gave the film an authentic sense of reality. Highly recommended!

Review by Marc Lissenburg

Released by Momentum Pictures
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review