Though influenced by [REC], which director/co-writer Alberto Marini produced, and Cabin Fever, this Spanish-made outbreak-of-homicidal-lunacy picture has fresh new ideas which make for interesting wrinkles on the currently familiar tropes of infectious chemical insanity and small groups of young folks turning on each other.
It opens with a blindfold girl running through the woods and just sidestepping a deadly protruding branch that is as prominent as Chekhov’s gun in the first act – and is revisited several times before a blackly comic fulfilment of its potential. The imagery recalls Intacto, but it’s a trust exercise for American camp counsellors Christy (Jocelin Donahue, of House of the Devil) and Michelle (Maiara Walsh, of The Starvation Games). On the strength of looking great in photos, the girls have been hired to work at a camp in a converted mansion where unruly Spanish kids will learn English. Horndog Antonio (Andres Velencoso) brags to his sidekick Will (Diego Boneta) that last year’s girls left when they found out he was sleeping with both of them, but he sneakily tells Michelle that Will was the cad who did this. The characterisations are broad-strokes – Will is blind without specs, Christy is the rich idiot who wants to go shopping and Michelle is estranged from her parents but wants to phone home and patch things up – and there’s ominous business about the RV full of druggies who have set up camp nearby, an interruption to the water supply and mystery pollen in the air. After some misdirection, which leads us to expect a different character to snap, one of the women is siezed by murderous rage and starts frothing black bile at the mouth … and Antonio, who at least speaks Spanish and knows the area enough to be useful, gets battered to death.
The infection spreads, but the twist is that after twenty minutes of raging and battering and killing the effect wears off and the victim returns to normal, with no memory of what they’ve done. So everyone in turn gets to be the monster and the potential victim, with a staggered structure as sometimes two are infected at the same time and gang up on the sane one. Is it the pollen … a blood disease passed on by biting … or genetically-altered magic mushrooms? The druggies in the next field are similarly struck by the effect and – in their lucid spells – the characters try to get away or hole up against a siege, and even consider that deliberately dosing themselves with madness might be a way to get through the crisis. Marini and co-writer Danielle Schlief (The Condemned) give all the characters a mix of base and admirable qualities so it’s not quite as misanthropic as the average Eli Roth film, and there’s a weird streak of human feeling as people can’t bear to tell their friends what they did when they were insane … but the worst cruelties are inflicted by people who are in possession of their faculties.
It has an effective coda as a horde of just-maddened children rampage through foggy woods and everyone gets their just desserts.