“Diablo Rojo PTY” is an international horror film released in 2020 and directed by Sol Moreno. The film debuted in Panama in 2019 and takes claim for being the first horror movie produced in Panama. The story follows a bus driver who drives for a chain of party buses which call themselves Diablos Rojos. Red lights, painted exteriors, and loud music give these buses an eye-catching quality which does not sit well with the residents of the city, but business is booming in the party bus industry in Panama. One night, the bus driver goes out on a ride with his thrill-seeking stoner best friend, and gets pulled over by the police after stopping in the middle of the road at night. The driver explains that he saw a witch, and just like that things start to take a turn for the supernatural.
Overall, this film does have a number of interesting qualities. I actually really liked the acting and I think that the talent did a great job of matching the tone of the script. If this truly is Panama’s first horror film, then I imagine many of these actors do not have experience acting in the genre, but I was pleasantly surprised by the performances and found this to be a consistent bright spot throughout the film. Additionally, there is a nice blend of practical and animated effects. Not all of the CGI effects felt convincing, but that’s to be expected when you’re coming across low-budget horror, and even if there were some “cheesy” moments, I do think the effects all worked to help convey the story.
Honestly, I think that this is a film that may struggle to play to American audiences. A lot of the plot revolves around Latin folklore, and while some of the dialogue touches on the origin of these folk stories, the film isn’t necessarily looking to educate people on the Panamanian folklore as much as it is using well-established cultural stories to present a new story of horror (you could almost compare it to a Panamanian version of Lovecraft Country in that way.) That being said, I wouldn’t classify this movie as “bad” in any way. It has some clear commentary on how the industrialization in Panama is erasing much of the culture, and I find that angle to be incredibly refreshing in the world of horror. The film also makes it a point to present the occultist cannibal witches (oh yeah, there’s occultist cannibal witches in this) with clear objectivity. Although the characters are running for their lives and trying not to get eaten by occultist cannibal witches (God, that’s just a fun series of words to type out), I never got the sense that the film was presenting them as “evil”, but rather as a product of the environment. Almost just an aspect of nature.
Now, here’s what everybody wants to know – “Is it scary?” No. The film isn’t scary. And that is kind of a bummer given the fact that there’s no shortage of occultist cannibal witches (I really just wanted to type that one more time), but it is worth keeping in mind that this is the first horror film produced in Panama. It’s hard for me to say, with my evident lack of cultural context, exactly what is and isn’t scary to a Panamanian audience, but I really don’t think this would cause fright for even the most casual American viewers. I would chalk a lot of that up to the use of music. This was an element that had me pretty confused throughout because, while the narrative itself certainly has an 80’s supernatural killer vibe, the music sounded much like a classic Hollywood whodunnit mystery movie. It made for a strange delivery in the tone and I think it took the punchiness out of a lot of the scares. Again, I obviously don’t have the cultural context to know how this choice plays out to a Panamanian crowd, and I really don’t even think that it’s a bad choice for the movie, but it definitely made for something unlike anything I’ve seen from American cinema, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.
“Diablo Rojo PTY” succeeds in its mission and brings a fresh voice to the world of international horror. If you’re a fan of international indie horror, I think this is absolutely worth a watch. If you’re interested in Latin folklore as a whole and find yourself disappointed by the corporate American schlock that comes out concerning the subject then I’d recommend this to you as well. It’s a short movie that clocks in at just over an hour and I think this would be a great comfort watch for anybody looking to add something a little bit off-the-radar to their Halloween watchlist.
“Diablo Rojo PTY” is available to rent and buy on Amazon Prime Video.