Spoiler-Free Review: “The Damned” (Tribeca)

June 9, 2024

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at josephperry@gmail.com. He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

Tribeca usually premieres features that land on my “top 10 horror films of the year” lists, and Icelandic director Thordur Palsson’s The Damned (UK, Iceland, Ireland, Belgium; 2024) has kept that streak alive, as it has certainly cemented a spot on my list already. The film deftly blends psychological, folk, and survival horror elements in a gripping work of dread.

Set in a harsh winter during the 19th century, The Damned finds widow Eva (Odessa Young) in charge of an isolated fishing outpost. Her crew is near starvation, doing their best to keep their spirits up even as they begin resorting to eating the fish they use as bait to survive. When Eva and her crew catch sight of a sinking ship one day, they must decide whether to try and rescue survivors or to put their own survival ahead of saving strangers. After a chilling discovery is made, the inhabitants of the outpost begin to exhibit horrifying behaviors as what some call superstition but others believe to be supernatural reality sets in.

Palsson, who cowrote the screenplay with Jamie Hannigan, serves up a slice of fear-fare cinema that is simultaneously bleak and beautiful, with captivating cinematography from Eli Arenson including some unforgettable shots, and a perfectly fitting score from Stephen McKeon. The unrelenting cold seems fairly palpable, and the mystery behind the mythological Icelandic entity known as the Draugur — I’ll avoid describing it here to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible — unfolds in a satisfyingly suspenseful manner. 

Young is fantastic in her lead role as Eva, a widow who is in charge of the lives and livelihood of her mostly male crew, with all of the pressure that it brings, and the difficult decisions she must make once the differing beliefs of the group’s members begin wreaking havoc. Joe Cole adds strong support as crew member Daniel, and the rest of the ensemble cast players all turn in riveting performances, as well.

The Damned is a masterful horror film that unveils its secrets at a superb pace, combining the fear of The Other with Icelandic mythology and folklore. Strongly recommended for fright-fare aficionados of all stripes, The Damned, which has been acquired for North American distribution by vertical, is slated for release later this year. 

The Damned screens as part of Tribeca, which runs June 5–16, 2024. For more information, visit https://tribecafilm.com/festival/film.

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