starring Jan Plouhar, Jan Révai, Isabela Bencová, Dana Vávrová
written and directed by Dan Svátek
by Walter Chaw The first drug-themed film to be shot in the Kingdom of Thailand, Czech director Dan Svátek's The Damned is a handheld, vérité version of Return to Paradise (or Brokedown Palace, or Midnight Express) as two Czech nationals find themselves adrift in an island nirvana before being spirited away to a third-world prison. A handful of gritty, genuinely affecting Blair Witch moments, aided immeasurably by a gorgeously vigorous performance from Czech star Jan Révai, lend the picture an H-tinted immediacy and, now and again, a taste of the true horror of draconian drug laws to foreign nationals accustomed to broader freedoms--or, at the least, justice that is neither so swift nor so sure. (The sharpest twist of the screw comes as a woman informs a young heterosexual man just imprisoned that his days of vaginal sex are a distant memory.) Never a pretty picture, The Damned heightens the grimness of its setting with its jittery DV medium, achieving at once an intimacy and colour-bleached desolation (note a moonlit-suicide with blood cast jet-black) that transcends its amateurish score and melodramatic instincts. (The worst moment arrives when it's revealed--none-too-subtly--that a prisoner is reading the collected works of Samuel Beckett.) Missteps and amateurishness aside, The Damned is a promising work that bodes well for Svátek as well as for the DV medium, which, with the dual triumphs this year of 24 Hour Party People and Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, appears to be coming into its own.
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