by Jason Coffman
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There are so many lackluster takes on the concept of the “found footage”/”handheld horror” movie that it’s easy to forget what made the whole idea compelling in the first place. Many of these films seem unable to stick to the rules of the style and insert annoying soundtrack songs and sound effects, and in general a reliance on loud noises is sadly prevalent among most entries in this subgenre. It gets so numbing that it’s a genuine pleasure when a film like Atrocious comes along and actually brings the tension and scares back to what is becoming a very crowded field of lazy “found footage” horror movies.
Cristian (Cristian Valencia), his sister July (Clara Moraleda) and their friend David (Sammy Gad) are three teenage friends who do a web series on urban legends. When Cristian and July are dragged on a family vacation, they borrow David’s camera in the hopes of finding interesting stuff to shoot around the old family home where they will be staying. At first things seem promising: the house they’re staying in is old, huge and creepy, and there’s a labyrinth adjoining the house through a rusty old gate. Too bad their parents strictly forbid them from going back into the labyrinth and demand they shoot only inside the house.
So naturally, they wait until Dad has to go back to the office due to a work emergency and Mom is sleeping to go back out into the labyrinth. Hoping to find a tie between the creepy labyrinth and a local legend about the ghost a girl named Melinda who appears to assist people who have lost their way in the woods, Cristian and July delve deeper and deeper into the labyrinth. The further they go, though, the more things fall apart at home, until one night they are awakened by their panicked mother, who can’t find their little brother Jose (Sergi Martin). They set out into the labyrinth at night to find him, and things go quickly downhill from there.
The setup is that Atrocious is edited together from evidence found at the scene, over “37 hours of recorded evidence” that Cristian and July shot while on vacation. As with pretty much any “found footage” movie, the first two acts are mostly setup for the action in the final act. The action in Atrocious is all build-up to a lengthy, intense chase through the labyrinth at night using the cameras’ night vision and a weak flashlight. Imposing during the daylight scenes, the labyrinth becomes terrifying at night, with fleeting glimpses of foliage and ornamental urns, columns, and other things less immediately identifiable. This segment of the film takes up most of the second half of the running time, and it manages to sustain a high level of tension for quite some time.
Atrocious is a great example of “found footage” horror done well. Clues to the solution of the mystery at the center of the film— disappointingly, it is clearly spelled out by the end— are planted throughout the opening series of “home movies” and debut feature writer/director Fernando Barreda Luna ratchets up the tension nicely. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything, but Atrocious is the best “handheld horror” film to come down the pike in quite a while and is well worth a look.
The Collective releases Atrocious on DVD on 25 October 2011. Special features include a “making-of” featurette and an English-language option.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org as well as contributing to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).
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