The first things that would probably come to mind when people think of Panama would be hats, the canal, a disastrous World Cup appearance and the Panama Papers scandal. Now it seems the country is looking to branch into new territory and establish itself as a player in one of the most productive genres of cinema. This is marked by The Horror Collective’s release of Diablo Rojo (PTY), billed as Panama’s first horror film.
It may not be the most sophisticated film out there, but coming from a place with no horror tradition to call on, the film is well-made. Directing duo Sol Moreno and J. Oskura Najera, who also wrote the script, have delivered a final product that is well crafted and made with proficiency and enthusiasm.
It is without some tension thanks to a reliance on the usual horror tropes (Characters are picked off one by one), but it does enough by itself to rise above its flaws. Namely, it subverts one of horror’s biggest clichés, here having a group of men who are on the run, lost in the rainforest and trying to escape a coven of witches.
Much of the action is centred around the bus of Miguel (Carlos Carrasco) and Junito (Julian Urriola), who after the former has a brief encounter with one of these witches, end up far from familiar ground, where they and the other passengers they pick up end up targets of these wild women.
Diablo Rojo (PTY) seems well-versed in its subject matter, with inspiration seemingly taken from the works of John Carpenter, such as The Fog and Assault on Precinct 13, in addition to little nods to other genre classics such as The Evil Dead, The Shining and the many, many films that made up the cannibal boom of the 1980s. The film’s influence in American horror is visibly worn on its sleeve and the filmmakers are able to do them justice.
That said, this is a production determined to remain true to its roots, evidenced by Panamanian folk tale La Tulivieja playing a major part in the plot. This is one thing that makes Diablo Rojo (PTY) more interesting than most, that it is not just a series of jumpscares and kills shots (though there are plenty of them), it has a fairly intriguing story that it sets out to resolve. Najera’s script does well to recall and tie together all the film’s elements to make into an unexpectedly sophisticated plot.
But has it done enough to gain the attention of its intended audience? Those who like more intense horror, or gore, may have to look elsewhere, but the rest – those who are able to see the film for its ambition, influence and invention, such as a full view of a character being sliced in half – will be more at home here. Especially if they like their horror efficient, the film’s run time being only seventy-six minutes.
There’s more to applaud Diablo Rojo (PTY) for than just being a first for Panama. It is a slick, tongue-in-cheek and well-made product of its genre that may not be to everyone’s tastes but will be brisk and amusing to those who are in the mood for something off the beaten track or are feeling quite squeamish.