Written and Directed by: Fernando Barreda Luna
Starring: Cristian Valencia, Clara Moraleda and Chus Pereiro
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
A local legend becomes terrifying reality.
In my review for The Blair Witch Project, I discussed how that film surprisingly didn’t produce a slew of found footage imitators. I’m not sure if it was because producers and studios were less creatively bankrupt a decade ago (nah), or if the dearth was due to them being finicky about the gimmick working twice (more likely). At any rate, the found footage boom has finally occurred over ten years later, no doubt thanks to the combined forces of [REC], Paranormal Activity, and Cloverfield. The latest film to jump in on the trend is Atrocious, a Spanish/Mexican co-production that doesn’t bring a whole lot of freshness to the genre, yet still manages to be a swift, scary little tale.
Our video-obsessed camera-people this time are a couple of siblings named Cristian and July Quintanilla (Cristian Valencia and Clara Moraleda). They’re on a vacation to the family’s summer retreat along with their parents and younger brother; this would normally be a drag, but their interest in local lore is piqued by the presence of a nearby labyrinth. As they investigate, they uncover the story of a girl who once went missing in the maze and who now supposedly haunts the woods. One night, the legend seemingly proves to be true when the duo is terrorized by an unseen force in the maze.
Though I might have seemed a little facetious towards found footage movies in my intro, I actually enjoy them quite a bit, and I think fans will find a lot to like in Atrocious. This is one of those times when you’re glad a movie doesn’t live up to its title because this is a neat little movie; I suppose you wouldn’t consider one with a title like that to be “quaint,” but it kind of is in that it briskly proceeds like most of these things do. The script manages to hit the high points (namely the urban legend at the center) a few times as we get to know the principles in natural fashion, meaning there’s a lot of milling about the house without much semblance of real plot. This could border on tedious, but the natural chemistry (particularly between the two on-screen siblings) keeps it interesting enough, plus we watch them do some interesting things, such as explore the basement (which actually provides a clue about the ending in hindsight). At one point, they find some old VHS tapes and a VCR, so we see them watching parts of an unseen horror movie, which sets the appropriate mood.
I know that doesn’t sound thrilling, but Atrocious sets its mood exceedingly well. Maybe I’m just a sucker for the local legend stuff; I mean, the one presented here isn’t even necessarily all that inventive, nor is it all that scary in theory since the ghoul in question is actually helpful to those who have gotten lost in the maze. However, it still works--plus, that’s just one version of the story, as a family friend explains the more sinister side to it in an especially convincing testimonial. As he delivers his monologue, you can really feel how spooked this guy is, and I was absolutely convinced that going into that labyrinth would be a terrible idea. The kids, of course, aren’t convinced, but they are at least smart enough to trek out during the daytime first, where we find an impressive set piece. Isolation is understandably a highlight here, as an eerie stillness hangs in the air, almost like a calm before the storm.
Said storm eventually hits, and it’s certainly the main event here. Cristian and July find themselves trapped in that maze on a dark night that’s accompanied by howling winds and other mysterious sounds. The manic intensity of this sequence nearly recalls the hysterics of Blair Witch at times; high praise to be sure, but it’s genuinely creepy and gripping, if only because the sense of mystery is upheld. This all escalates so quickly and naturally, which is kind of indicative of the flick as a whole--it’s only 75 minutes long, so it attacks with a controlled, precise fierceness. It manages to hold ts intensity even when the eventual climax somewhat dilutes the build-up; as it turns out, the folklore stuff ends up being a bit of misdirection, and the twist ending requires you to suspend your disbelief a bit (though, thankfully, the film mostly addresses the issue of why these characters would be hanging on to their camera most of the time).
Despite the somewhat limp ending (which actually jumps outside of the found footage and incorporates some newsreel stuff), Atrocious still mostly succeeds because the journey getting there is so good. I’m consistently impressed by how well these types of films turn out; Atrocious is yet another one that obviously doesn’t have much of a budget or name actors, but it manages to capture a certain authenticity that’s paramount to the success of a found footage film. Slick and scary, it’s the first real winner that Bloody Disgusting has uncovered as part of their “selects” series. They’ll be releasing it to DVD via Vinvendi on October 25th, and the disc will feature an English dub option and a “making of” feature. The disc’s presentation features a strong, clean anamorphic transfer, plus a enveloping 5.1 surround track that accurately reflects the film’s well done, immersive sound design. A lot of films really toe the line between “rental” and “purchase,” and Atrocious is probably one; I can see people possibly reducing this one in the same way Blair Witch was, as it’s just a couple of kids screaming in the dark for a while. However, I was drawn in by the mixture of the backwoods atmosphere and haunted house theatrics, so much so that I walked about my own home with some trepidation after watching it. With that in mind, I’ll give Atrocious the benefit of the doubt. Buy it!
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