★★★ out of ★★★★★
After finding themselves upside-down in an ambulance, a group of paramedics, cops, and prisoner patients realize that they are the victims of an ambush, with the mysterious forces closing in around them. This siege thriller goes heavy with gore and extended exposition before settling in on a brutal and memorable final moment.
Directed by Christopher Donaldson
The Canadian thriller, Ditched is a bloody brawl of a movie, placing a group of confused people in the middle of a siege around an ambulance and a cop car that have been run off the road in a remote wilderness. The story begins in the direct aftermath of an accident that has left an ambulance upside-down from a spill in the Canadian woods.
Paramedic Melina (Marika Sila) awakens with only one of the patients, Franson (Kris Loranger) still strapped to a gurney, also conscious from the wreck. Melina has been concussed and can’t recall the events that led to the accident, or even who she is and who the people surrounding her are. The other paramedic, Aiden (Lee Lopez) is unconscious. And there is a patient, apparently dead chained to a gurney that has been tossed out the back of the ambulance.
The charming Franson, it turns out, is a felon, and a psychotic one at that. This was an ambulance that was in the middle of a prisoner transfer and has been unceremoniously ditched in a gully in the deep woods. Melina manages to fend off an attempted attack by Franson and starts to scout the scene. Fortunately, there are two cops also on the scene (J. Lindsay Robinson and Lara Taillon), and one of the drivers (Declan O’Reilly) is still alive as well. And for good measure, an obnoxious and desperate convict (Reamonn Joshee) is stuck in the back of the squad car. From all appearances, the ambulance and their police escort were intentionally run off the road in an ambush. But why? And by whom? (Or what?)
It doesn’t take long before the hunters come for their prey. Amorphous forms dash about in the brush and threaten the party. The hunters managed to abscond the body of the dead patient/prisoner in the gurney and continue to surround the ambulance. Monsters? At first, I thought so. The film is highly suggestive of that potential, but starting with the second act, the villains get clarified. When seeing these shadowy shapes darting about, I thought… wait a minute, those look like men in gilly suits. And indeed, that’s what they are. It’s dudes in mossy suits and not smart sasquatch as was my secret hope. (Damn!)
This is a revenge plot. Somebody has set out to take out the felons, and in a way, this feels like Attack on Precinct 13 taken into the woods. But the cops and the ambulance crew are also wrapped up in this ambush, and our nominal good-guy protagonist survivors have to ponder who is more dangerous, the prisoners under their watch, or the assassins who are bent on revenge. And, why the hell are they having to be embroiled in the same plot?
Ditched has its moments. It is a very intense film, but there are some detrimental editing and pacing issues with the film. Actions that should take seconds of time for somebody to execute take minutes. Characters who are out of sight are most definitely out of mind as if they put their individual predicaments on hold. And, most egregiously, when the big bad, Caine (Mackenzie Gray) finally shows up, it’s an exposition dump worthy of Scooby-Doo, but much, much longer. Caine gloats, threatens, and taunts his quarry. He grandstands like a Bond villain and wants to milk out the payback slowly and painfully. But I would suggest that it’s slow and painful for the audience too. Get on with it already!
That said, there are some great characters in this movie. The Franson character is a wonderfully devious antagonist, who is clearly very dangerous, but eventually, you reluctantly fall for him. Kris Loranger manages to steal every scene he’s in, and some that he’s not in. He is the exception to the rule of knowing what he’s up to, as he likes to talk… loudly.
Marika Sila is earnest and a focus puller as our lead protagonist. She thinks on her feet and is perhaps the only protagonist trying to think their way through this predicament. The Inuit actress is also a stunt woman and a hoop dancer, and this could be a role that leads to more exciting work in the genre, though there are times where I think she can dial it back a little. She’s more of a charismatic presence than a practiced thespian at this point.
This is Christopher Donaldson’s feature directorial debut. He has been a prominent storyboard artist for projects like DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Van Helsing, and Child’s Play, and his penchant for visual framing is evident in the film from the opening credits. Using the strobes of the police car and ambulance to get the strong red/blue hues really worked well. His use of macro close-ups was effectively used throughout, (I particularly liked the transition shots that used orchids bathed in the alternating colors) and the practical gore effects were outstanding. His future career as a potential DP and art director is exceptional. As a screenwriter… not so much.
The biggest element that tips my scales in the favor of recommending this film is the ending. The VERY ending. It is a classic ’70s style kick to the guts conclusion. And what’s more, it lingers through the whole closing credit sequence, letting the final imagery marinate in your brain. Donaldson has reached back into the George Romero/John Carpenter cookie jar and savored the last five brutal minutes.
If you are a fan of bloody siege movies, like Feast, You’re Next, or Straw Dogs, you might get a kick out of this one. You’ll just have to put up with some extended monologuing. And again, the end is totally worth it, if you’re not squeamish.
Ditched is not rated yet, and if it gets an MPAA rating it certainly will be R. There is a lot of gore, bloodshed, and sadism in this film… so it’s a HARD R, pushing NC-17 (I’m guessing it won’t get a rating). Ditched had its world premiere at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival, and so it is just beginning its festival run.