Until now I thought that the South Korean‘s ruled the military horror genre. They now have a serious rival with the Columbian film The Squad. Directed and written by Jaime Osorio Marquez The Squad is his first film. What a brilliant start to what looks to be a brilliant career.
The film opens with the camera following a soldier down a narrow alleyway. He is threading his way through more soldiers who are having an argument. Moving past the arguing soldiers someone calls him by name, he is Ponce and he comes upon another soldier who is tapping a bird-cage and whistling at it. He is moving slowly and he goes past the bird-cage and looks down at a lit spot on the ground. Something is there and just as it starts to come into focus the scene stops.
Ponce has been dreaming and he wakes up on a helicopter with his squad; a small nine man group of commandos. They are heading to a remote outpost that stopped communicating with the outside world two days ago and command presumes that it has been overrun by guerrillas. For this mission the commandos have been joined by a guide named Indio and a lieutenant, Fiquitiva.
The men arrive at the outpost which is situated on the top of a hill. The entire area is covered with fog. When they approach the long stairway that leads to the post, Fiquitiva is told by command to wait for reinforcements before proceeding. One of the men becomes impatient and charges up the stairway.
The lieutenant sends another man up after him. Seconds after he reaches the top the men hear an explosion and someone yelling in pain. The second man has stepped on a landmine and severely injured his leg.
When the squad reach the outpost with their wounded comrade, they find the place deserted except for one soldier who shot himself. The bunkers are drenched in blood, mirrors have been smashed and so has the radio equipment. They also find religious symbols and writing on the walls asking for protection from evil.
Indio finds a living “survivor” a woman who has been badly beaten and then has been “walled up” behind a freshly built cinder block wall. The sergeant and another commando start interrogating the woman and beating her to find out what happened to the soldiers at the outpost. The lieutenant makes them stop and leaves Ponce to guard the bunker with orders to let no one in.
Later the sergeant returns and tell Ponce to leave and enters the room to interrogate the woman some more. When the lieutenant finds out, he goes to the bunker to find the sergeant dead and the woman missing. Meanwhile the men are isolated on the outpost with no contact with command and the fog is getting thicker.
As they search for the missing woman, who at least half the men assume is a guerrilla, tensions start to develop in the group. There is a power struggle between the “assigned” lieutenant and the sergeant. The man who had his leg injured (Parra) is going to die if they don’t get off the outpost and his best mate (or lover?) Negro is beside himself with concern and grief.
Indio the guide has been ordered to continue searching for possible survivors from the outpost and his paranoia grows. Divisions between the commandos get more frequent, aggressive, and bigger. Cortez, who is Ponce’s best friend, starts seriously losing control as he becomes as convinced as Indio that the woman was not a guerrilla but a witch. He has decided that the woman killed all the men who have vanished.
The fog gets thicker and the stress, paranoia and tensions grow.
This film is dark and a picture of tension, suspense and an ever prevailing sense of fear and foreboding. We know from the minute this film starts that these men are doomed for some reason. The dream, or memory, of Ponce is disturbing and unsettling. This sets the mood of the film from the very first frame.
The cinematography is dark and moody. The fog feels isolating and scary; when we follow the men through their ordeal our sense of disquiet and unease increases right along with the soundtrack that feeds those feelings as the film progresses.
This film is on par with the Korean film’s R-Point and Guardpost. A sure sign of the film’s potency and effectiveness has to be the news that an American producer (Scott Lastaiti) has already secured the rights for a remake. I would strongly advise watching this Columbian gem before it gets the “Hollywood” treatment.
- Gangster Squad (15) (morningstaronline.co.uk)
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