The Quintanilla family has a house in Sitges that they haven’t visited in a decade, so all five of them pack into the car and head up for the summer. The two teens have vague memories of the home from when they were much younger, but it’s the local legend of a ghostly girl in the forest that catches their attention. They document their exploration of the house and the giant maze attached to their back yard on video, and soon they’re hearing strange noises at night and seeing mysterious figures in woods. When their younger brother goes missing the family rushes into the maze to find him, and, well, let’s just say the Quintanillas can get by with a smaller Christmas tree this year.
Atrocious is the bastard Spanish love-child of Blair Witch Project and Insidious, and yes, in that scenario Insidious is the male who donated little more than a genre and a one word adjective for a name. It falls victim to some of the same problems that plague most found footage films… namely a meandering first half, segments consisting of little more than the camera being shaken repeatedly, and the nagging question as to why these people are still filming, but it also creates and builds enough solid tension and legitimately frightening scenes to mark it as one of the better examples of the genre.
Four people meet the wrong end of a murderous implement. A dog dies too.
All of the violence is committed offscreen leaving us with only the bloody end results. The various violent acts include a stabbing, a beheading, a betongue-ing (?), and a fire pit roasting. There’s also the overall stress that bloodcurdling fear can have on the body.
None. There are only two female characters here, and one is a barely glimpsed mother while the other is an underage teen. The girl is cute in that Disney Channel kind of way though. Pervert.
If the spooky garden maze is behind a padlocked gate… stay the fuck out.
Cristian and his sister July are fans of urban legends and welcome the chance to explore the rumors of a ghost girl named Melinda who supposedly was lost in the woods many years ago and never found. They say if you get lost she’ll appear to help guide you to safety unless you turn your back on her. Which I guess is a rude gesture in Spain and worthy of mauling. The two of them tag-team with dual cameras and document their walks through a large, overgrown forest maze behind the house. They don’t think much of it all until their dog goes missing and they find his bloodied carcass in the woods. And it only goes downhill for them from there.
This is writer/director Fernando Barreda Luna’s feature debut, and while it suffers from a slow setup, an annoying lead, and some odd editing issues it should mark him as someone to watch. He succeeds in making both the house and the woods characters unto themselves all while offering up red herrings as to the nightmares to come. There are some missteps in the editing though with scenes that benefit the narrative and scares but that make no sense in a supposedly true story. An example can be found when they record a mysterious person with their back to the camera in their woods… and then they cut to next scene. Real people wouldn’t have simply walked away and forgotten about that creepiness. But the mystery enhances the atmosphere…
Love them or hate them, found footage films are here to stay. They’re cheap to produce, and as Paranormal Activity showed so well a couple years ago they can sometimes turn big profits. What some filmmakers forget though is that it helps if the movie is actually good. Should go without saying, but a lot of these films tend to spend more time on the idea than on the execution, and the end result is a boring slog seen through a shaky lens.
Which is an apt description of one long stretch in the middle of Atrocious. The film’s first third does a good job of setting the scene, laying out the background that will feed later paranoia, and getting viewers to pick who they want to see survive. (Hint… it’s not Cristian.) The middle section sees the action pick up as they head into the woods at night, but the scenes goes on forever, longer than the movie’s entire running time even, no seriously, they do not end.
Until they do.
At which point a pretty damn terrifying third act kicks in, and all bets are off. The ending is a fresh take on the material and not the least bit expected, and while it still manages to offer up a few problems of its own it brings the film to a mostly satisfying conclusion. It’s a short film, and Luna gets more right here than he gets wrong, but the running time highlights the weaknesses even more than usual. But when it’s scary, it’s scary. Like Paranormal Activity and [Rec] this is a film best enjoyed with a crowd, so if you have the opportunity to check it out before it leaves theaters you should do so. Just be sure not to turn your back on it until you’re safely back home.
Atrocious is currently in limited theatrical release at an AMC theater near you.
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