Scream Factory heads to South America with THE SQUAD in their latest Blu-ray release.
When contact is lost with the fog-shrouded mountaintop Knife's Point military base and guerillas have bombed the two bridges that make the forbidding area accessible, a unit lead by ineffectual Lieutenant Sanchez (Mauricio Navas) hikes up to the base and secures the perimeter as Sarge (Andrés Castañeda, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA) forcefully quashes down talk of exploration and rescue before backup arrives. Eager to find his missing brother, Arango (Andres Torres) rushes up the mountain, and Parra (Mateo Stevel) is gravely injured by a mine at the top of the steps when he chases after him. Forced to seek shelter inside the base so that medic Ramos (Juan David Restrepo, OUR LADY OF THE ASSASSINS) can treat Parra, the unit discover the radio destroyed and a lot of blood but no bodies. When superstitious Fiquitiva (Nelson Camayo) – nicknamed "Indio" – discovers a wall in a storeroom with spells to ward off evil scrawled all over it, they discover the sole survivor is a feral woman (Daniela Catz) who can do nothing but scream and attack anyone who tries to help her. Believing her to be a guerilla, Sarge tries to beat an interrogation out of her before being stopped by Sanchez (his humanity being interpreted as weakness by Sarge). Cortez (Alejandro Aguilar) discovers the captain's log book which reveals that thick fog arrived when they captured the woman who the men came to believe was a witch as they started getting sick and dying. When Sarge is discovered dead the next day and the woman is missing, the men start to think they are not alone in the base even after searching it thoroughly. When Fiquitiva finds the bodies of the previous unit piled in a ditch and starts experiencing plague-like symptoms, the unit becomes even more fractured. As more men disappear and die, Cortez wrests control from Sanchez with the help of his timid friend Ponce (Juan Pablo Barragán); but even Cortez seems to be going off the deep end as he gives Robledo (Julio César Valencia) who gets the go-ahead to avenge Parra's death on Arango and decides that they must kill the witch before she can kill them.
Vaguely mining territory explored recently by films like the South Korean R-POINT and THE GUARD POST, the British DEATHWATCH and THE BUNKER, and the Singaporean 23:59 among others as trouble military units in remote areas are torn apart by something that might be supernatural or their combined personal demons, THE SQUAD plays better upon second viewing as we realize that the film does not suffer from a lack of likable characters but that there are degrees to how unlikable each character is. Passive Ponce starts out as the most likable character but soon ends up the most contemptible in the extent to which he will follow orders – even the sadistic Sarge briefly redeems himself by breaking the chain of command to press Sanchez to order the men to get Parra indoors so he can be treated – and that it matters not that the flashback that continually haunts Ponce throughout the film is left vague in content because it merely illustrates that attitudes of him and the others involved ("Everyone's a guerilla or an informant to you" accuses one of another) rather than depicting a specific sin crying out for retribution. Whether the cause or causes of the deaths is human or supernatural, the sole survivor is certainly deserving of his implied fate in the closing shot.
Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray better replicates the dark and gritty look of the film – where the muted tones come more from the greens of uniforms, the gray of stone and fog, and splattered mud than color correction (although blood is more often black than red) – than the film's previous English-friend release on DVD in the UK from Momentum Pictures. Audio options include the original Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio (and a 2.0 stereo downmix) which emphasize dialogue and shrieking strings over general atmosphere, which works when characters are drawn towards distant sounds and half-heard voices that may not belong to those they seem to be. The optional English subtitles are free of errors, and reveals the use of diminutives employed sincerely rather than condescendingly by certain characters for one another. The subtitles also translate one of the spells on the wall (which I do not recall from the UK disc). Note that my review disc had some hiccups during playback on PS3 but played flawlessly on another Sony Blu-ray player.
The theatrical trailer (1:47) appears to be of British origin as it opens with the Momentum Pictures logo (as it did on the UK DVD). The only other extra is the film's making-of featurette (20:00), which is actually four short, fluffy press kit pieces focusing on the casting and characters, the script and the director, building the sets when the army withdrew their permission to use a real base, and how dependent the shooting was on the location's weather with the producer fretting over having actors and crew standing around unable to do anything after having been flown and bussed in from civilization. (Eric Cotenas)
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