Diablo Rojo PTY. 2020.
Directed by Sol Moreno and J. Oskura Nájera.
Starring Carlos Carrasco, Leo Wiznitzer, Alejandra Araúz, Natalia Beluche, Renan Fernandez, and Julian Urriola.
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.
Welcome to the freakshow, Panama! Sol Moreno and J. Oskura Nájera’s Diablo Rojo PTY marks the Central American country’s horrorsphere baptism, revving a scary story rooted in cultural representation. “Red Devil” buses plague Panama City, defying safety regulations and traffic ordinances in favor of their next pickup. Nájera and collaborating writer Adair Dominguez use genre extravagance to welcome audiences into a distinctly Panamanian nightmare, recognizable to commuters who stuff into transit torpedoes because who can turn down a twenty-five cent fare? International horror should be representative and fearless when speaking about domestic fears on a worldwide platform. With that in mind, Diablo Rojo PTY succeeds.
Diablo Rojo PTY is no Christine or Maximum Overdrive. Miguel Moreno (Carlos Carrasco) navigates one of Panama’s most hectic Red Devil routes, swerving between sedans and rival transportation mercenaries. His hype man (played by Julian Urriola) hangs outside the vehicle’s entryway, taunting passersby. After a particularly rough workday, the two begin their travel home, but then the unbelievable occurs. It’s too much to summarize, but let’s say their tricked-out school bus ends up hours from Panama City and surrounded by spellcasters. Cops get involved. Maybe a priest. Definitely cannibals. You’re not in Kansas anymore, Miguel (but, like, the Panamanian version of that phrase).
We’ve seen barrier-breaking horror features like Alejandro Brugués’ Juan Of The Dead out of countries without established genre presences (Cuba), and we’ve been impressed by their overall productions. Moreno and Nájera throw everything from the proverbial cauldron at audiences, but Diablo Rojo PTY is no Juan Of The Dead. Seams are identifiable more often than narrative threads stitch neatly together. Points awarded for imaginative darkness, but technical insufficiencies earn counter deductions. For those who struggle through indie horror because it’s not always as “polished” as mainstream blockbusters, Diablo Rojo PTY looks every bit the “first-timer” part.
Counterpoint: Diablo Rojo PTY is *wild* once Miguel’s rig gets rolling. Our first introductions into madness are of a primitive “bruja” (that’s “witch,” my English-speaking friends) who accosts Miguel then liquifies after peering into his third eye. From there, interactions only increase with obscure funhouse appeal. Moreno and Nájera worship at the altar of practical goreification, including a ghost from Miguel’s past whose flesh cocoon reveals this MASSIVE demonic puppet that requires multiple workers to maneuver. Is it janky-as-hell when green-suited grunts lift something that could have spawned from Evil Dead to achieve post-altered flight? No doubt. Is there still “hometown Halloween maze” appeal when machetes gut victims without guiding hands, or bodies melt within pools of holy water, or near-empty gas canisters disproportionately explode? I mean, honestly? Yeah?
For as much of Diablo Rojo PTY is defined by some amateur line reading (law enforcement characters) or notably low-budget quirks, Moreno and Nájera are taking mighty genre swings. We’re talking child endangerment and fables turned full-sized maneaters. Comparable indies feature similarly “sneaky” shot frames to hide behind-the-scenes wizardry but without the ambition shown by Panama’s first-to-market screamer. Something worth noting and rewarding, because other generic horror titles release every week without an ounce of the groovin’ genre vibrations Diablo Rojo PTY emanates.
Those who require a meticulous roadmap when they travel any highway to Hell will be left directionless, which redirects back towards Struggleville. Miguel’s haunted past reanimates the sins he never forgave, but lacks robust development and tethered motivations. Josephina (Alejandra Araúz), the monster lady mentioned above, shares confusing, then clear, then back to confusing ties with those satanic señoritas on Miguel’s tail who burn down a church. We know they’re intertwined, but supplementing scenes stray towards the region of Chiriquí and its vast secrets with distracting offhandedness – the cannibals mentioned above. Threats manifest at random, characters seem to live past their “holy shit, you’re still alive” expiration dates, yet all that matters is once the wheels on the bus go round-and-round no more, someone dies. Why? How? Don’t worry; it’ll be graphic and goofy. Then again, those in need of narrative strengths won’t find them here.
To say Diablo Rojo PTY isn’t perfect is an understatement. Diablo Rojo PTY is the do-it-yourself equivalent of something Can Evrenol (Baskin, Housewife) might conjure. Where Sol Moreno and J. Oskura Nájera execute best is when it matters, as horror ramps or creature-witchy-grossness takes centerstage. Any filler connectivity represents frothy but nutritionless head, emotional beats struggle to strike reverence despite gruesome visuals, but road bumps are somehow leveled by those gnarly sights along the way. Plus, what’s to hate about a film where men flee in terror and scream “Bruja!” at the top of their lungs? Just don’t stress over the less-explained details like how marijuana smoke can stun advancing threats.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).