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Squad, The

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
El Paramo
Release Date: 
Scream Factory
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Jaime Osorio Marquez
Juan Pablo Barrag√°n
Alejandro Aguilar
Bottom Line: 

Latin American horror has really excited me over the past decade. While it hasn’t gotten the attention of “foreign” horror movements in countries like France and Spain, there have been some excellent and unique shockers exported from our horror-loving friends south of the border, even if most have been well under the radar of most horror fans. This is why I was thrilled when Scream Factory announced it would be releasing the critically acclaimed Colombian psychological horror film The Squad (El Paramo) on Blu-ray here in the U.S.!

An elite squad of Colombian Special Forces soldiers is dispatched to a remote outpost feared overrun by the local guerrillas. When the squad arrives, however, they find the base eerily quiet and seemingly deserted. As the squad secures the base, however, their radio man is critically wounded, setting off a booby trap during the siege, and, while he’s taken to what remains of the outpost’s medical facility, the rest of the men search through the compound, discovering but a single body in the trashed radio room, while the rest of the base is awash in evidence of a bloody struggle.

With no way to call for backup, the men hunker down to guard the base against whatever it was that swept through prior to their arrival, but soon discover they’re not alone as beyond a freshly constructed wall smeared with bloodied symbols they find a bound and gagged woman. The squad’s sergeant violently interrogates her, but elicits nothing but screams of pain and nonsensical ramblings.

As the squad’s sergeant and the inexperienced lieutenant argue about how to deal with their prisoner, the men begin to turn on each other and, between fear of what lay out in the surrounding hills and distrust of the man beside them, the bond of these former brothers in arms is put to the test.

The Squad isn’t a very original film, but, for what it lacks in innovation, it makes up for in atmosphere, tension, and grit. Working with a meager budget, director Jaime Osorio Marquez makes the most of his intimate set and his small group of actors, crafting a taut and fairly engrossing piece of psychological horror that will immediately call to mind similarly themed films (which I won’t name here as that’d effectively spoil the film). Marquez has also assembled a solid cast, led by Juan Pablo Barragán, whose “Ponce” is the closest thing the film has to a hero. It’s through his eyes that we see the gradual breakdown of his once tight-knit unit, as well as the increasingly paranoid and erratic behavior of his best friend, Cortez (Alejandro Aguilar).  My only major gripe (besides the obvious familiarity of the subject matter) is that Marquez wasn’t able to give the viewer a greater sense of the strength of the bond between Ponce and Cortez (or between the titular squad in general) as things go sour so fast that we never really get to know them prior to their descent into madness. It certainly lessened my investment in anyone save for Ponce, and even his character is painted in such broad strokes I really couldn’t identify with him.  Still, The Squad is a well-made and solidly acted little shocker, and there’s enough good here to recommend a viewing.

Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presents the film in a very strong 2.35:1 transfer that delivers a crisp and defined representation of the film’s digital origins. Detail is here in abundance, with everything from the grime-filled wrinkles on Ponce’s face to the fine textures on uniforms and surfaces. In terms of color, the image is extremely desaturated, so it’s not the most vibrant transfer I’ve seen, but contrast is spot on, and the film’s many darker scenes are bathed in inky blackness that’s free of any signs of compression or obvious noise. Overall this is a striking image that services the material well, and is helped out by a nicely mixed 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track that offers robust bass and a spacious, enveloping mix.

Bonus features include a very raw “Making of” featurette as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.

While it’s a story I’ve probably seen a half-a-dozen times, The Squad still held my interest thanks to strong performances, a genuinely unnerving atmosphere, and solid direction from Marquez. It’s a deliberately-paced flick, and has certainly got its share of flaws, but it’s well worth a viewing, especially for fans of psychological horror.  

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