ATROCIOUS Review. Well, Is It?
Atrocious gives me the opportunity to say a number of things that have been on my mind. Chief among them is how much I enjoy the found footage genre. When well done it has produced some of the scariest moments in film in the last ten years. Of course just as some people don't like horror films and dismiss them as ineffective, "I've never been scared by a horror film", many horror fans do the same with this style of horror film. It has always seemed ridiculous to me. Either give yourself over to the experience the film offers or don't. If you don't then please don't complain to the filmmaker, the theatre manager or me. The Last Broadcast (1998), The Blair Witch Project (1999), Paranormal Activity (2007), REC (2007), Cloverfield (2008), The Last Exorcism (2010), Troll Hunter (2010) are all examples of this style (and not the only ones) that work very well. To that group please add Atrocious.
Christian and July Quintanilla are brother and sister who constantly record their every move. When the family go on vacation they use the opportunity to investigate a legend local to the Sitges area that involves the woods near their old farmhouse. To say more would rob the plot of the few twists and turns that drive it. One of the primary strengths of Atrocious is the confidence the film extends to it's audience' willingness to identify with simply presented likable characters thrust into a horrifying scenario.
The feature film debut of Fernando Barreda Luna seems to meander but in reality it is a well constructed series of foreshadowing, if somewhat disconnected, events that lead to an exact narrative place. A trip to a basement where old memories are unboxed, nervous confrontations with parents, and disquieting discoveries in the wooded maze by the home, take on deep significance upon second viewing. And by the time Luna has his characters panicked, running madly and lost in the woods at night, identification with them becomes total for any viewer ready to run with them.
It's worth pointing out that, like older style 3D, the found footage technique simply makes some people sick. Luna has no mercy for the viewer who is distracted by unstable camera POV. But even here he has a knack for what works and what doesn't. Characters run endlessly through the pitch black forest, the camera's night vision eerily illuminating trees and other fauna till we can't be sure what we're seeing. Is that a shadow, or a figure emerging from the darkness? Likewise the film is written to deny a sense of cosmic surety. Is the threat supernatural? Natural? We don't find out until the end and even then there is room for ambiguity.
"The mind is like a labyrinth in which anyone can get lost." This bit of text which appears at the very beginning of Atrocious speaks to a plot device of the film but even moreso to just why found footage is such a powerful technique for the horror genre. It provides for an unquestioning unblinking and largely unreasoned gaze into our own fears, disconnected from the things we have come to associate with movie set trickery. It is utterly instinctual. We are offered up, mute witnesses. We simply see. The first coherent image Atrocious provides is that of a terror stricken gaze lit in corpselike blue. They are eyes that seem to suggest that they no longer see only this world but that of some other, previously invisible incomprehensibly awful, larger landscape. The last twenty minutes of this film were some of the most intense I've experienced in a while. Atrocious provides a jaw-droppingly grotesque denouement that thoroughly lives up to it's title.
Bloody Disgusting Selects has thus far released good to very, very good films. The weakest of the bunch, Phase 7, was still interesting and Rammbock, Yellow Brick Road, and Cold Fish were well above average. I'm definitely to the point where almost anything on this label will absolutely get a viewing and probably a purchase when it hits home video. Do yourself a favor and see Atrocious.