Following a biking accident, bike racing star Joe is reluctant to return to the sport, but is convinced to return to a special event in Chile. When Joe and his girlfriend Stephanie go out for a test run the day before, they find an injured man in a car. He seems to have been infected by something - and the people that injected the virus into him are looking for him, armed with guns and ready to kill to keep their secret hidden.
Patricio Valladares has come a long way since we reviewed some of his earlier work in "Curriculum", "Dirty Love" and "La Creación". Not that he was not a good filmmaker then, but they were far from acknowledged in the mainstream, and were obviously created by a man with some wicked ideas in his head. With "Hidden in the Woods" (the original Chilean version and his American remake starring Michael Biehn) he became a name that was known outside of the international niche underground scene. And good for him, it was just a matter of time! His latest movie, "Downhill", is possibly his most conventional horror film to date and one that has gotten some acclaim from the festival circuit.
"Downhill" is about a BMX racing star, Joe, who decides to retire after his best friend dies in an accident during a race. One day he is called up by a friend who wants him to come to Chile and return for one last event. Joe's girlfriend Stephanie wants him to return as well, as convinces him that it's a good idea. On their test run the day before the even, they end up in a situation that is hard to get away from. They find a crashed car in the woods. Inside of it is a sick man who has been infected by some kind of virus. Just as help arrives, they're attacked by a cult of thugs that seem to be the reason for the man's disease. The cult is ready to kill to make sure that no one finds out - and they also decide to take advantage of the situation and get some new test subjects.
There is enough going on in "Downhill" to not make it boring, but it's too bad that the movie still falls into a number of familiar traps. The biggest issue for me is that the movie is more about the bad people than the strange virus that is being spread around. This is often the case with creature feature and similar movies; people are the real horror. I get it and I don't blame the script for being bad because of it, but it definitely keeps the movie from feel original. Despite having some body horror and Lovecraft-inspired moments, the majority of the movie is good guys hunted by bad guys, and I have seen that so many times before. It'd be a much more thrilling piece of cinema if they could spice it up somehow. Make use of the body horror aspect more. Make use of the weird insects that they are being infected by. And definitely make more use of the Satanic subplot that is just hinted at now and then towards the end. As it is now, the Satan stuff felt very out of place in what was built as up experiment-heavy rituals rather than Satanic rituals. Either way, the movie isn't specifically bad for this, but it did make it less unique and memorable for me.
Patricio Valladares is not a bad director, so the movie is obviously of fairly high quality. The effects are occasionally flawed, but I still enjoyed both the gore and the gnarly infection effects. It takes a cue from Cronenberg by making sure that the biological effects are slimey and gross. The location is good, mostly taking place in the woods or in a cabin, and is shot well to keep the right atmosphere through-out. The acting is mostly good, but as you can expect with a cast that's a mix of Chilean and American actors, it's hard to truly judge everyone equally in terms of acting quality. I couldn't find anything really wrong personally.
It's too bad that "Downhill" ended up with too few surprises, as it keeps the movie from being all that interesting. It's not boring, but it plays out like a lot of movies. There's something mysterious and intriguing that we never really find out much about, and instead we're caught in a cat-and-mouse game with people vs. people. It's okay, but that's not what interested me the most about the movie. I would have wanted a movie driven by creatures, a virus and body horror, which are all things that we see in the movie (just not enough). Still, I think most people will agree that "Downhill" is a pretty decent horror movie. What it lacks in surprises, it makes up for with being of fairly high standards.