The Squad (aka El Páramo) DVD Review
Written by Ilan Sheady
DVD released by Momentum Pictures
Directed by Jaime Osorio Marquez
Written by Diego Vivanco
2011, 103 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released 18th June 2012
Juan David Restrepo as Ramos
Andrés Casteñeda as Sargento
Mateo Stevel as Parra
Daniela Catz as Mujer
Juan Pablo Barragan as Ponce
Alejandro Aguilar as Cortez
Mauricia Navas as Teniente
When you’ve watched so many horror films it’s hard not to prejudge a new title. It can only take a couple of seconds to work out within which sub-genre it belongs purely by reading out the title. Anything with ‘bite’, ‘night’, or generally words ending in ‘ite’ (insert joke here) are going to contain some vampire element. If a film contains the word ‘moon’, ‘silver’, or ’hunt’ it’s going to be a werewolf movie, zombie films tend to contain the word ‘dead’, or the less cunning titles just throw Zombie right up there across the top (the movie Zombies Zombies Zombies was a particularly easy giveaway) and if it’s a one word title that is proceeded by ‘The’ then odds are high that it is about as commercial as Hollywood films can get. Occasionally a film will come along though that is a complete mystery and reveals itself to be an absolute masterpiece. but come on, a military based horror film called The Squad? How imaginative can THAT be?
Thankfully eight seconds in and the title El Paramo puts you firmly in the hands of the unknown as you step into Colombian cinema: a rare go-to-place for original horror.
The Squad begins as an experienced commando unit is tasked with a rescue mission in an important but isolated military outpost overrun by rebel militants. On arrival they find the place completely abandoned and when things go pear-shaped and orders fail to come in they find themselves trapped and each discovery exposes more and more ‘demons’ bubbling beneath the surface.
My first impressions were that this was going to be a clone of Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers or Michael J Bassett’s Deathwatch or my worst fear was a watered down attempt at duplicating Predator. What resulted is a unique, well directed and impeccably acted, psychological assault on the senses (I’ve always wanted to say that) and the last time I watched a movie with this kind of paranoia was with John Carpenter’s The Thing.<
Though the actors are barely known they are perfectly cast. These aren’t cartoon caricatures like the A-Team they are playing. They are highly trained soldiers whose distinct personalities and emotional responses under stress make them as credible as any real life person. In addition I highly recommend reading the opening lines of Juan David Restrepo’s bio on IMDB because, after already being enthralled by his performance as Ramos, his backstory will keep you interested in his future career.
The hand-held close up shots give a feeling of stiflingly claustrophobic anxiety and the location itself is hauntingly spooky. Good job too, as the special features explain the trouble that the crew went through to secure and manage the real life military mountain stronghold. Truly this film must be a location scout's Herculean challenge and should become a campfire tale to scare film students.
There is no place for comic relief here. The tension is always high and the music mirrors that. Not since Japanese horror Ringu has a film’s soundtrack been so effective. And, though I can't say anything about it for fear of spoilers, I think this film has the most incredibly unsettling final 10 seconds since the boat scene in Friday 13th. Yeah. THAT good.
My only complaint is that I have way too many un-answered questions and though this was the director’s intention (and justifiably so) I consequently have my suspicions that the film revolves around profoundly elaborate happenstance. But with the tension of The Thing, a soundtrack as effective as The Ring and an ending as memorable as Friday the 13th, I think director Jaime Osorio Marquez and writer Diego Vivanco have paved one hell of a path for the future of Colombian cinema. I just hope when a big Hollywood film studio buys the rights they pick a title better than “The Squad”.
Fun fact: On completion of this article, Horror DNA editor Daniel Benson informs me that El Páramo is being remade by an American studio. It is unclear whether it will be called The Squad.
Video and Audio:
There are no options at all how you want to present the film. What you have is what you are given. Thankfully, what you are given is fantastic. The 2.35:1 widescreen quality is superb considering the amount of fog and darkness on screen. More importantly, the 5.1 surround sound is beautifully used to create atmosphere, depth and unease. There has never been a better reason to put your speakers all the way up.
There’s an unimaginative trailer that reveals all in a montage of clips. Heavily avoid until after the film (if you're one of those people who like to see trailers first) as it is spoiler city. There are four mini making-of featurettes that reveal a lot of the hard work that went into making the movie, including the physical effects of working in an almost inhospitable environment.
A commentary would have been brilliantly received, but no such luck. I also think that if this film is as important to Colombian cinema as the cast and crew say, then a feature or two focusing on more talent would have done the industry wonders, but instead, on inserting the DVD there are three trailers from Momentum: War of the Dead, Woman in Black and Act of Valour.