Diablo Rojo PTY


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Diablo Rojo PTY
"The ending is a real peach which will have genre fans cheering in delight." | Photo: Bear Eye Photography

A small Central American country which has produced fewer than 40 feature films in the course of its history, Panama has just made its first venture into horror, and it's quite something. Despite bargain basement effects, dodgy acting and a plot that is, frankly, all over the place, it's full of local character and has an inescapable charm. If you're a fan of Eighties straight-to-VHS supernatural excess, it will instantly make you feel at home.

Miguel (Carlos Carrasco) is a bus driver who, together with his young helper Junito (Julian Urriola), is preparing to make a long and lonely drive through the Chiriqui jungle. Going for a drink first, as you do, he finds himself attracting the attention of a much younger woman and, with none of the caution one might expect in such a situation, allows her to lead him off behind the building for a hasty erotic encounter - whereupon she promptly turns into a monster and tries to attack him. After he has made his excuses and left, he gets on board the bus as if nothing had happened, mentioning the incident to Junito only much later, in passing. It's just one of those nights. But this is far from the only unsettling encounter he'll have to deal with on what might be the last night of his life.

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Loosely based on the folk tale of La Tulivieja, this is a film whose story at first appears chaotic, then starts to make sense, then descends into chaos again. As more and more characters turn out to have connections in their pasts, there are moments when you will think 'Wait a minute - is this horror or is it just a telenovela dressed up with some fake blood?' Although there are barely any turnings on the road they're following, Miguel and Junito somehow manage to get lost, finding themselves on the outskirts of a small village whose priest warily agrees to help them. With two police officers also on board, one of whom is badly injured, they have to fend off attacks by witches and by the cannibals who inhabit the remotest parts of the jungle, a feature in regional folklore since neolithic times. This is, nevertheless, a modern tale, as we are reminded with Junito pause at perilous moments to take selfies.

How does one defend oneself against such evil? The police officers do their best with their guns. The priest liberally splashes around holy water. Junito has heard from his grandmother that witches are deterred by cannabis smoke. Suffice to say that none of these things prove sufficient on their own, with only the brightly painted, neon-lit bus offering any form of sanctuary, and perhaps not enough.

Directors Sol Moreno and J Oskura Nájera clearly had their work cut out for them, shooting on location in hot and humid conditions which must have made it a challenge to keep equipment working - never mind the fact that almost all of the film was shot at night. This is a case of jumping in at the deep end, and with that in mind, they haven't done too badly. There are only a handful of scenes in which it's hard to tell what's going on. Understanding it all, especially without the benefit of local lore, is another matter, but as well as building on the aforementioned legend it makes use of some internationally familiar horror tropes. The ending is a real peach which will have genre fans cheering in delight. Riding between cities on a night bus will never feel the same again.

Reviewed on: 14 May 2020
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A 'Diablo Rojo' bus driver, his helper, a priest and two policemen fall victim to a mysterious spell and end up lost somewhere in the Chiriqui jungle, where they will have to survive the creatures that inhabit the roads, with the old bus as their only refuge.
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Director: Sol Moreno, J Oskura Nájera

Writer: J Oskura Nájera, Adair Dominguez

Starring: Carlos Carrasco, Leo Wiznitzer, Alejandra Araúz, Natalia Beluche, Renan Fernandez

Year: 2019

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Panama


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