The world does not need a cautionary tale about squatting in a New York City tenement building, and yet here’s Condemned, illustrating the perils of choosing to live, illegally, in a rundown urban high-rise alongside various junkies, psychopaths and miscreants. Puttering around in search of a purpose for its first half, and then lamely riffing on [rec] during its latter sequences, writer/director Eli Morgan Gesner’s film opens with an old man named Shynola (Anthony Chisholm), surrounded by mannequins in a moldy little apartment, ruminating on the inherent relationship between creatures and their homes. It’s a creepy intro that immediately gives way to laughable nonsense, beginning with runaway rich girl Maya (Dylan Penn) opting to move in with her boyfriend Dante (Ronen Rubinstein) and friends Alexa (Genevieve Hudson-Price) and Loki (Honor Titus) in a condemned Lower East Side dump—a place that looks like an unsuitable living environment for rats, much less people.
In this rancid edifice reside numerous crazy people, from drug-cooking Cookie (Perry Yung)—who distributes his goods in fortune cookies—to abusive Hasidic Jew Big Foot (Jordan Gelber) and his prostitute girlfriend, to neo-Nazi Gault (Johnny Messner) and his chained-up man-slave. Condemned spends its early minutes establishing these and other wackos in scene after scene of dim lighting and rotting yellow-green hues, with some sexual depravity and physical violence thrown in for good measure. Given the cartoonish grotesqueness of everyone and everything in this building, the fact that Maya willingly chooses to stay here—and, for a short spell even seems to enjoy her new graffiti and grime-covered home—immediately renders the action absurd, and reveals the film as just a lame excuse for reveling in extreme gore.
Maya and company’s happy rent-free existence is shattered when Cookie decides to pour his drug operation’s toxic waste down the bathtub drain. With Gesner’s camera repeatedly travelling through his building’s interconnected pipes, this sludgy goo creates an ill-defined biohazard situation in which tenants begin vomiting uncontrollably, sprouting ugly boils on their skin and suffering from deranged hallucinations that compel them to kill. In other words, they turn into pale imitations of [rec]’s demon-possessed zombies, albeit ones who deliver tongue-in-cheek wisecracks during their hack-and-slash attacks on whoever is nearby. And since Cookie, while leaving for a narcotics deal, has apparently locked everyone inside, Maya and Dante soon find themselves struggling to stay alive amidst all sorts of unholy insanity.
Once all hell breaks loose, Condemned barely takes a break from characters running, screaming, fighting and then running some more, exhibiting no interest in developing suspense. Rather, it’s sole aim is to coat itself in so much sticky, putrid puss, bile and blood that one’s gag reflect will be stimulated. Unfortunately, after the umpteenth instance of characters slipping on, crawling through, or being coated in human sludge, one grows numb to such shock tactics, and it leaves the proceedings feeling not only inert, but downright juvenile.
Without a scare in sight, Condemned merely races about in search of its next gross-out gag, as well as other faux-outrageousness, such as the sight of Big Foot squaring off against Gault in a Jew-vs.-Nazi battle that’s as eye-rollingly dim as a bit featuring a junkie model (Lydia Hearst) censuring Maya for being the embodiment of gentrified modern Manhattan. Like the “Chekhov’s gun” principle, Loki’s axe-shaped bass guitar—modeled after the one played by KISS’s Gene Simmons—eventually becomes an outright weapon by story’s end. Yet even then, director Gesner fails to stage even a suitably silly sequence involving its use. Instead, it’s just a throwaway element to be introduced and discarded at random, all in service of a story that screeches at the top of its lungs as it barrels, monotonously, toward a conclusion that embraces clichés but not anything approaching coherence.
Director: Eli Morgan Gesner
Writer: Eli Morgan Gesner
Starring: Dylan Penn, Ronen Rubinstein, Genevieve Hudson-Price, Honor Titus, Jordan Gelber, Johnny Messner, Lydia Hearst
Release Date: November 13, 2015