Review: The Squad (El Páramo)

The story…

When contact is lost with a military base in one of the more desolate areas of Columbia, a special unit is dispatched for search and rescue. They find only one survivor, a panic stricken woman, bricked into a wall space, which is covered in superstitious wards against evil. Tension mounts amongst the soldiers as communications with the outside world seem futile and fatal incidents happen with increasing regularity, but are they the victims of witchcraft, vicious guerrilla tactics or merely their own unstable sanity?

 

The review…

Military horrors are practically a sub-genre these days. Soldiers can be cast in with zombies, mutants and ghosts, their higher level of training amounting to nothing when facing off against the kind of beasties only the world of cinema can throw at them. What are significantly less noticeable in the marketplace are Columbian/Argentinean co-productions, of a reasonable budget, based in the mentioned sub-genre, so from the beginning The Squad is a curio that begs your attention.

As the film opens it becomes evident pretty quickly that we are in for a slow ride. After a bare bones set-up we are welcomed into a first act which consists of about one part plot to four parts of the relatively two dimensional characters getting on each others backs. This is a trend that last the duration of the running time, only becoming more and more on the nose and morphing into the primary source of tension.

As the second act unfolds it seems that we’re in for a more traditional form of horror movie, as elements of the supernatural are suggested. But these elements soon peter out as director, Jaime Osorio Marquez, uses the suggestion as an occasional trigger to spark thoughts that more may be at play than is happening on screen, even if all evidence indicates otherwise.

Its not an unintelligent tactic and to some extent it actually works, as does his ongoing mission to build tension, but as the film chugs along at a painfully slow rate, its intension shifting from focused to vague, the kind of tension being built is eventually revealed to be entirely the wrong kind.

When one thinks of great tension in horror, such examples as John Carpenter’s The Thing comes to mind. That, is he/isn’t he? Edge of seat, involved, knuckle-biting tension. The Squad populates itself with characters that are either bullyboys or victims, the dominant manner of the bullies being instantly overbearing, which in turn piles on to the extreme factors of the mission and repeatedly build into bursts of aggression and/or hysteria. It does work to have you on the back foot, but its altogether with an undesirable sense of discomfort. This does seem to be the director’s intension, and this may indeed encapsulate good horror for some, but I suspect not for most.

The production can’t really be faulted, it’s all put together in a slick and professional manner and the actors do a fine job with the material they have to work with, but when all is said and done it’s just too slow, it builds to very little and though it fulfils its intension, it’s a misguided intension.

 

Conclusion…

C grade – for originality

C- grade – for storytelling

B grade – for visuals

C- grade – for horror content

Overall grade – C

 

The Squad is currently available on region 2 DVD and Blu-ray from Momentum Pictures.

Watch the trailer.

Richard
A UK based Contributor; Richard Reynolds splits his time writing articles and interviews for Fanboy Confidential with running his own comicbook shop, Ground Zero Comics, as well as sticking his thumb in far too many pies, including illustration, writing and filmmaking, he also consumes fiction in all its forms like its going out of fashion.

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