An outpost atop a fog shrouded mountain has fallen out of contact, so an outside squad is sent in to establish their whereabouts. The base is abandoned with the previous tenants leaving behind little more than half eaten plates of food, blood smeared walls and floors, and a mystery.

Oh, and a woman chained up behind a false wall.

The Squad is a slowburn horror film with atmosphere to spare, but it’s also as intangible as the mist that hangs across the mountain. The initial incursion into the outpost is filled with tension and an eeriness that infests every corner of the place. It’s the Marie Celeste all over again, only on land. (So, it’s Roanoke all over again?) But everything that works so well early on eventually fades away to be replaced by the mediocre and the mundane.

Soon the squad is falling apart emotionally and physically as they run in circles attempting to figure out what exactly happened to their predecessors and why the strange woman was imprisoned so harshly. Paranoia, suspicion, and physical ailments tear them down one by one as they come face to face with an evil that can’t be stopped with mere firepower. The writing is on the wall, both figuratively and literally, and it portends an unpleasant demise for everyone involved.

It’s clear something bad is going on here. It’s clear the woman was in the wall for a reason. And thanks to repeatedly teased memories of one soldier it’s clear the squad was part of something bad that went down prior to their arrival at the outpost. Slowburn films are fine when both the journey and the destination are worthwhile and engaging.

The Squad barely manages the former and misses the latter completely.

At least the film looks pretty though. Director Jaime Osorio Marquez works the atmosphere and general creepiness at every opportunity, and cinematographer Alejandro Moreno fills the frame with images that keep viewers on edge. There are lots of depth of field shots featuring a close up in foreground and blurry image in background that hints at something just out of sight. Stretches of silence are matched with darkness that hangs like an ominous veil across the remaining hours of their lives.

But films don’t work on pretty pictures alone, and it’s the script that’s to blame for The Squad‘s failures. These men are isolated and increasingly frightened for their lives, but there’s not a character among them worth caring about. Too much of the action happens off screen and we’re simply told about it as if that should be enough to engage our interest.

Ultimately the eponymous squad is left to fend fend for themselves against the unknown and each other, but their real demise comes at the hands of an enemy they never saw coming…the filmmakers.

The Upside: Eerie atmosphere; effective imagery.

The Downside: Slow build with little to no payoff; predictable in many ways; more frustrating than entertaining.

Grade: C-


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