FANTASTIC FEST 2011: THE SQUAD Review

I've got a thing for military genre films for some reason. Ever since I saw Michael J. Bassett's Deathwatch I've been getting a semi regular fix of various quality in the form of The Bunker, Outpost, R-Point and The Guard Post. All these films have one thing in common and that is a military squad is trapped in a single location, battling either their own demons or physical ones. 

The Squad (El Paramo) by director Jamie Osorio Marquez joins this group films as a team of Colombian soldiers head out to a radio post high in the mountains thought to be taken over by guerillas. The small outpost is dead silent and empty. But when the lights go on the place is covered in blood, dead bodies and magic symbols made to keep out evil. When inspecting the premises even further one of the men discovers a woman buried alive inside a wall. A captains log found under one of the bodies discovered, tells them that the woman had been apprehended a few days before, thought to be a guerilla informant but soon after her capture and interrogation the men start to behave irrationally and people start disappearing or turning up dead. Convinced that the woman is a witch the men wall her up in one of the sheds. What happened to the men afterwards is anybodies guess. 

When the token brute of the group, who plans to show the captured woman who's boss, is found dead and the woman gone, paranoia kicks in in full force and bad things start happening.

Jamie Osorio Marquez creates an incredibly tense and claustrophobic atmosphere with The Squad. Filming everything in extreme close up and hand held with the background out of focus he manages to make the viewer disoriented and it doesn't help that the whole area is covered in fog. Even while these characters are situated on a mountain top surrounded by the great outdoors they are stuck against their will, cramped together in this situation that they all want out of.

The film plays out slowly and deliberately with tension growing with each moment. Characters are slowly losing their minds, not sure if they should believe country folk superstition or common sense. Actions are made out of fear and things go from bad to worse really fast.

One thing that so many military based film have against them is that most of the time characters look the same, everybody has the same haircut and are dressed the same, covered in grime and blood in a dark environment so it took a while before I knew who was who aside from a couple of guys who stood out because of their ethnic looks. It does confuse you at first and makes it harder to empathize with the main character. 

But other than that The Squad was an intense experience, extremely claustrophobic and involving with strong performances and full to the brim with atmosphere and fantastic minimalistic sound design.

Sadly it seems like I'm in the minority of that thought. 

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