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The Squad (2011)
Director: Jaime Osorio Marquez

review by Jim Steel

The set-up is familiar but the setting isn't. This Columbian creeper is set in the wilds and tells of the eponymous squad that is sent to investigate a military radio post that has fallen silent. The post is on a perpetually mist-covered mountain. The mountain seems, unwittingly, to be a metaphor for the narrative tension in this film. It builds to a peak in the middle and then declines again, although there is an effective scare at the end. Flawed, then, but not without merit. The story of a disintegrating platoon may not be a new one, but neither is the prospect of, for example, a haunted house. It is precisely because we can try to guess what is about to happen that we watch. It's comfort food.

The characters of the squad are clichéd, but the actors are very good. Their uniforms are lived-in and their equipment is worn. These guys, one feels, are really fighting a guerrilla war. Pity they are such bad soldiers. There's the incompetent officer who hasn't got the confidence of the squad; the bullying NCO who thinks he's really in charge (named, without any irony, Cortez); the black guy; the out-of-his-depth youngster, and so on.

In a refreshing break from convention, the Native American is not a stoic, spiritual source of strength but is, instead, an ignorant, superstitious peasant. This probably reflects the difference between the guilt-ridden Anglo filmmakers north of the Rio Grande and the more integrated world to the south. Or possibly not... But I digress. What exactly goes wrong for these guys and why do they start dying one by one? Well, I'm not going to tell you, not exactly. Is it supernatural or mundane? Even telling you if it's open-ended, or not, would be telling. Let's just say that for a large part of the film you will not be sure of the nature of the horror, and we'll leave it like that.

So, a radio base on the mountain top. The squad approaches and has to negotiate the barbed wire festooned with cans that show this post has been manned for a very long time, and is very hard to sneak up to if there were anyone up there. After creeping past the cans, one of the squad bolts up the stairs and another soldier is sent after him. There is a bang and the second man is badly injured. Was he shot by his comrade? Or by someone further up the hill? It later turns out that he set-off an anti-personnel mine, although initially it's a bit confusing for the viewer.

The base itself is bleak with damp concrete and damper trenches. There is no one around, but the walls of many of the rooms, especially the Spartan medical room, are splashed with blood. The usual banal graffiti is overlaid with superstitious mumbo-jumbo in one part of the base, and there are charms made of feathers and beads hanging from the ceiling. This is to ward off evil, says the Native American, stating the obvious. The youngster, left alone in the creepy room, hears something behind the newly-concreted back wall (oh - did we forget to mention this earlier?) and realises that someone has been sealed up behind it.

With no regard for the integrity of army equipment, he breaks it down. There is a witch behind it (Daniela Catz, you might just have seen her playing a 'saloon girl' in Lucky Luke). Or maybe she's just a crazy woman that the previous squad had brought in for questioning before they lost the plot and killed themselves. And, starting gradually, from that point on this squad begins to disintegrate, too. It never stoops to being boring, but the film definitely peaked with the discovery of the witch, which is a genuinely creepy piece of cinema. Is it worth watching? Certainly, but it's poorly paced, weakly characterised and dramatically hunchbacked, although it does offer a few twists to some old themes.

The Squad

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