The Squad (El Paramo) (2011)
(15) Running time: 103 minutes
Director: Jaime Osorio Marquez
Writers: Diego Vivanco, Tania Cardenas
Starring: Juan Pablo Barragan, Alejandro Aguilar, Mauricio Navas
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
This Colombian cross between dark psychological thriller and a hint of horror is a frustrating watch. First time director Jaime Osorio Marquez shows flourishes of brilliance here, and moments of real skill in building up suspense and tension, yet something went horribly wrong with The Squad (El Paramo), and I can’t help but feel painfully let down by the film which could, and should, have been excellent.
With barely an introduction, we are thrown into the thick of the films story as a squad of soldiers are en route to an army base in the desolate plains of Colombia in search of the soldiers who were there before them. All contact has been lost, and it is thought that local guerrilla’s may have taken the base and killed the soldiers. Our group of nine experienced soldiers approach with caution and are ordered to wait at the bottom of the base to “secure the perimeter and wait for re-enforcements” Naturally they do not as one of the soldiers has a brother who was part of the army base, and ignoring orders, they storm the base to find answers. The base is deserted, although there are signs of a mass suicide, and there are mine’s left out all around the base in order to keep something out. With blood all over the walls and some sort of religious mumblings in another room, it appears that the group before had been spooked by some horrific presence, and with the evening mist creeping in, our Squad need to find answers before they start losing their minds. With a man injured, radio’s broken, tensions mounting in the group and the discovery of a creepy mute woman sealed in a room, the film begins to get increasingly darker and mysterious.
Such a great set up should deliver a great pay off, you’d expect. The acting from all the soldiers cannot be faulted, the mood and atmosphere is very near perfect and the use of increasingly creepy music shifts the tone of the film from mysterious to downright unsettling in the blink of an eye. The camera work, and terrific use of the mist and dark night-time shots work superbly, and the film really does conjure up an atmosphere of menace not seen much these days. The Squad is patient, intriguing and a real slow burner that really should have got under my skin and stayed there. There is real skill here from the director, and his use of close-ups, blurred vision and sometimes jittery camera prove this is a director to watch out for. The Squad does not feel rushed, forced or without complete care and attention to detail, yet, something has gone hideously wrong and it pains me to say it, but The Squad is boring.
Nothing really happens: the dialogue is almost nonexistent and when it does happen it barely leads anywhere, there doesn’t appear to be a narrative and the ending will simply baffle and confuse, there are no real answers and sadly, by the time you reach the end you won’t be looking for any. The films pace, while at times proving this to be a more artistic and careful film, can be sluggish and sleep inducing. When the scares do come, they are built up well but have no real payoff, and that pretty much sums up The Squad. It builds and builds, but to nothing, and it seems that the director was a little stretched in making this into a full length film. It is slow and becomes increasingly less interesting as there are only so many build ups to nothing I can take. It is a real shame because there is skill here; there are signs of a good director and no doubt much better things to come. However, The Squad just never quite nails it, it falls flat where it should deliver and even with the brilliant atmosphere and mood the Squad is sadly forgettable and a massive let down. I hate saying this when there is clearly a lot of talent here, but the film needed a kick, a boost of just something to lift it out of that sleep-inducing monotone feel that just gives the viewer nothing.