Review by Sean Boelman
Somehow the first horror movie to ever come out of the Spanish-speaking country of Panama, Diablo Rojo PTY seems like it was designed for the midnight circuit. With a visibly low budget and countless rip-offs of mainstream classics, no one can accuse this of being a particularly good film, but it’s lovable in all of its absurdity.
The movie follows a group of people as they find themselves stuck in the Panamanian jungle under the spell of a clan of supernatural creatures, with a “Diablo Rojo” bus as their only refuge. The script by J. Oskura Nájera actually isn’t that bad — just a bit conventional — leaning into the most basic motivation of the genre: survival.
That said, there’s very little in terms of character development here. All five of the lead characters are very archetypal, and not much is done in order to make the viewer form a connection with them. The mythology that is built around the antagonists is also frustratingly shallow.
There’s a lot happening in the film, and the situations as written are actually pretty creepy. Unfortunately, director Sol Moreno’s style is too wrapped up in stealing more effective scares from other movies instead of leaning into the atmospheric potential that is inherently present in the premise.
The level of mimicry in this film goes beyond homage into thinly-veiled near-plagiarism. Some of these moments are subtle, like shots that are clearly reminiscent of others that have been seen before, but others are embarrassingly obvious. The most frustrating of these can be heard in the score when a section of the movie uses a riff that viewers will undoubtedly recognize from The Shining.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the film is that the production value isn’t the greatest. Apart from making solid use of its tropical setting, the movie overwhelmingly looks cheap and campy. The visual effects are particularly laughable, with a blend of cartoonish CGI and ridiculous practical effects, but it’s still a noble effort given the historic nature of the production.
As a result, it’s hard to buy into the film because one never knows whether or not it is meant to be taken seriously. And when it is obvious that the movie is supposed to be scary, viewers won’t be able to stop themselves from laughing. This is especially the case when the audience is expected to be frightened by the mediocre monster designs.
Diablo Rojo PTY is by no means a good film, but it is an entertaining one. Now that Panama has their first horror movie under their belt, it’s time for a filmmaker with a unique vision for the genre to step up and bring something truly terrifying to the table.
Diablo Rojo PTY hits VOD on May 14.