As a general rule, Judge Daryl Loomis stays out of creepy labyrinths.
A local legend becomes a terrifying reality.
While I've never been the biggest fan of first person horror as a subgenre, I do greatly appreciate the rare time one of these films is executed effectively. In those instances, there is an immediacy inherent in the fact that we can only see through the characters' eyes, which does not exist in traditionally produced horror. Until now, only two of these films really got me, [REC] and The Last Exorcism. But I'm happy to report that I can now add a third to that list. The Spanish-produced Atrocious really got under my skin and made me question whether I wanted to go into my dark back yard after the film had finished.
Facts of the Case
Brother and sister amateur filmmakers Cristian and July (Cristian Valencia and Clara Moraleda) record every waking moment of their lives. When the family decides to go out to their old family farmhouse on vacation, boring as it might be for them, it gives them a chance to film their investigation of a local legend about a little girl who dies after getting lost in the woods. Upon arrival, they discover a dilapidated labyrinth that is perfect fodder for their filming, but once they start searching around, strange things begin to happen in and around the house. Soon, they're on the run from an unseen force that threatens to destroy the entire family.
While Atrocious doesn't bring anything new to the world of handy-cam horror, it is a solid little movie with a genuinely creepy atmosphere and some excellent performances from its young stars. The story takes the well-worn creepy old house concept and uses the first person perspective to give it a slight spin. Had director Fernando Barreda Luna (in his debut feature) decided to film in a more traditional way, the predictability of most of the film would have kept the story from working. Unlike most of the horror entries that feature this technique, the success of Atrocious is absolutely dependent on the style; the plot simply wouldn't have worked without it.
It was a very good idea for Luna to have both kids wielding cameras simultaneously. This seemingly little thing makes a big difference, as it allows for editing between two viewpoints, making the story seem broader than if there was only one. This is especially true when the siblings get separated inside the labyrinth. Though it's always clear whose camera is in use at any particular time and the perspectives are always given extended periods to breathe, it is still disorienting and tense.
That tension is most apparent in the dark, when the night vision setting is at play. The audience, right alongside the characters, has no idea where they are. Every turn looks exactly the same, and subtle differences look like they could be trees or bodies. It's never clear and, with the characters scared and running, no shots are ever held for more than a second, making us wonder what we have seen and whether it's dangerous. The two kids, who are essentially the principal camera operators, do a good job making the image realistically amateurish, but without the annoying and sometimes sickening shakiness that often hurt these films.
The two young actors are basically perfect in their roles, especially given that it's the first for both. They're the right ages and they make for believable siblings. In part, the dialog and action is improvised and the actors were never given a complete script. Luna kept them in the dark about certain events in the film, including the ending, to make them more realistic participants in the action. Their reactions are very god and, more importantly, they're likeable. It's easy for me to imagine a couple of dumb kids who get a sudden filmmaking bug and record every stupid thing around them (much to their parents' annoyance, I'm sure); they just seem like kids, and not the annoying, intelligence-deprived kind that make audiences root for their deaths. The family feels like a family and the events that befall them are tragic, to say the least, and that really helps to make Atrocious an effective and successful indie horror film.
From Vivendi, under the Bloody Disgusting Selects label, Atrocious is a decent disc that is definitely hamstrung by the style of the film. The image is about what one would expect from a movie shot on a pair of Sony HVR cameras. It looks pretty good for a home production, but is quite shaky and, with the prevalent use of night vision, there is basically nothing to laud about the transfer. A pristine, high-resolution image isn't really the point, though. Similarly, the sound performs exactly as expected, and even though the disc features a 5.1 mix, the surround channels are token, at best. Almost everything is pushed up front and it sounds very decent, if unspectacular in every way. There is also a bad English dub track, but you can easily avoid that. The only meaningful extra is a short making-of featurette. It isn't great, but given that I was a little bit unnerved by the film, the humanization of the people involved was welcome. Not a great DVD, but it represents the film pretty well.
Even in a horror subgenre that I don't care very much for in general, it still doesn't take me a whole lot to sell me on a movie. A decent story, execution that doesn't betray the concept, and the all-too-rare likeable characters are all I really need. It doesn't seem those few things are all that much to ask for, but it's shockingly seldom that that these piece come together in a horror film these days. Luckily, this short, sweet Spanish entry hits the right notes for a scary little time that I can totally recommend.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
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