If you’re going to be sick, twisted, and depraved, at least try to be original and creative. Director Eli Morgan Gesner must have taken this to heart while making his feature film debut Condemned. Unapologetically gruesome and refreshingly twisted, Condemned plays like the bastard spawn of Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s [Rec] (2007) and James Muro’s Street Trash (1987). The set-up involves a simple reverse home invasion plot: one night a condemned apartment building in Manhattan’s Lower East Side gets ravaged by a mutated chemical concoction making anybody who comes in contact with the tap water lose their minds and brutally attack others (before anyone asks, no, they don’t become zombies—the film takes pains to establish that the victims are quite not dead). Caught in the middle is Maya (Dylan Penn), a spoiled rich girl who arrived the night before to live with her boyfriend after running away from her tumultuous parents. As the other tenants go berserk, Maya makes a horrific discovery: they have all been locked inside the building.
But enough of the plot. The meat and potatoes of Condemned can be found in its wildly imaginative characters, unpredictable visuals, and truly exemplary gore effects. Genser gleefully assembled a cast of the strangest, most oddly random miscreants and outcasts this side of a John Waters film: a Hassidic pimp named Bigfoot and his transsexual prostitute girlfriend; an ethnically Chinese, Russian-speaking drug dealer who cooks his product in his room and distributes them in custom-made fortune cookies; a pair of homosexual neo-Nazis into heavy BDSM and doom metal; a duo of hipster fashion model junkies; and a general assortment of varied weirdos and drifters.
Cinematographer Richard Henkels keeps the action lively with disorienting, other-worldly visuals such as rooms flooded in eery red light, mechanical sex dolls nailed to walls, and a steady barrage of truly impressive practical effects. I can’t make a guess as to what percentage of the special effects were practical or CGI, but it all looks immediate and authentic. Do NOT watch this film on a full stomach. Limbs go flying, body parts melt away, feces fly, and every imaginable drop of filthiness gets combined into an unholy amalgam of sh!t, semen, blood, puke, and pharmaceuticals. It’s rare to find a film so assured as to what it wants to accomplish. Stephen King once said that “revulsion” was the lowest level of the horror genre (before admitting that he had resorted to it more than once). But even “revulsion” can be beautiful if done correctly and with skill. Perfectly executed, Condemned is a symphony of unpleasantness.