“The mind is like a labyrinth in which anyone can get lost.”
The debut film from Mexican director Fernando Barredo Luna, Atrocious is yet another entry into the “found footage” genre. This is a niche where you either enjoy the handheld bouncy ride or you don’t (or if you have motion sickness, you can’t). I, for one, quite like this style of horror. With video cameras in our phones, tablets, computers, cars, and appliances as well as security cameras recording our every move 24 hours a day; the media sources for these stories are endless. The “found footage” genre really captures the YouTube viral zeitgeist. If done right, these films can easily suspend your disbelief, tricking your brain into believing what it is seeing is real and the horror we witness feels more real and immediate.
Atrocious begins with siblings July (Clara Moraleda) and Cristian (Cristian Valencia) shooting their own reality series on camcorders investigating urban legends. While holidaying at a family summer house in Sitges, abandoned for ten years, they discover the Legend of the Lost Girl. The regional cautionary tale, told to children to keep them out the woods, claims back on October 2, 1940, a little girl named Melinda in a red dress disappeared in the Garraf woods surrounding Sitges after nightfall and her body was never found. The story goes that if you get lost in the woods, Melinda will show you the way, but you must never turn your back on her. Others say you can hear her moan, while the most superstitious believe it’s the devil tempting you.
Disobeying their father’s mysterious demand that they do not go outside the house, the siblings discover a rusted padlocked gate on the border of their property leading to an overgrown, hedge labyrinth. Strange night sounds rising from labyrinth drive the family dog into a barking frenzy. One day the dog is gone. What the kids discover in the labyrinth follows them back into the old house, leading them on a cat-and-mouse chase that escalates into a series of atrocious murders. Is it connected to the Legend of the Lost Girl? Is it supernatural, or is it a psychopath?
I enjoyed Atrocious. It starts a little slow, but builds nicely. The characters are likable, and you find yourself invested in them. Their relationship as brother and sister feels natural. There may be a bit too much running through the labyrinth with cameras recording in nightvision, but it does become hypnotic, forcing your eyes to play tricks on you until the repetition of the trails takes on menacing shapes.
Atrocious was shot on a shoe string budget in just under two weeks. Many of the scenes were completely improvised. For example, when the siblings first explore the basement, the director never let the actors see the basement until they shot the scene (themselves) in one take, discovering for the first time the props the director scattered down there and giving the scene a striking realism. Luna kept his actors on their toes and wouldn’t let them quit improvising until he yelled cut. The labyrinth location is real, but was scheduled to be bulldozed down by a construction company leaving Luna less than a week to shoot there before it was all destroyed. The ancient home and labyrinth locations truly boost the production values and lend the film an unworldly sense of foreboding.
Unfortunately, Luna doesn’t quite stick the landing. I quite enjoyed the reveal in police photos, and then the movie revisits a crucial scene in the finale, showing more illuminating video. The image changes to some old footage and seems poised to really take you into a great mind twist, but fizzles out instead.
Atrocious is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 480p (upconverted to 1080p if you have a HDTV & Blu-ray player), but considering it is a “found footage” film, it really doesn’t matter. Colors are camcorder correct, flesh tones natural, and blacks a bit crushed and heavily contrasted.
The Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is amazingly effective. Deeply immersive ambience and great sound cues surround you at all times. The aggressive rear channels and subwoofer will blow your mind. This is a masterful and phenomenally creepy and rich mix. The dialog is perfectly clear and sharp. There isn’t any soundtrack music to support the “found footage” naturalism. This is such an impressive mix, I can only imagine what a lossless Blu-ray release would sound like.
- The Making of Atrocious (14:13) A wonderful lesson in guerilla filmmaking. Luna shows great verve and talent. Excellent lessons in low-budget creativity.
- Theatrical Trailer
If you like the “found footage” genre or haven’t seen that many of them, you will enjoy this. We’ve been over this well-trod ground before, and there is nothing new in this telling, but it is well told. I look forward to Luna’s next work. Moraleda and Valencia show a great deal of acting chops. Atrocious is creepy and even scary at times, but one of the problems with “found footage” films, at least the ones captured primarily by handheld cameras, is that you never really get a good look at the action. This is just the nature of the beast. Luna gets around some of this with police stills, but during the narrative you must make do with glimpses. This can be both frustrating and very disturbing.