Atrocious is a provocative title, so when I read it I was immediately intrigued.
Using a singular adjective as a title to describe the issues to come in a horror film typically implies that it means business. Take Creep, or Scream, or Insidious – the list goes on.
However, my initial enthusiasm was short-lived as I realised that first time writer/director Fernando Barreda Luna was well and truly riding the “found footage” wave. Surf’s up, big kahuna!
I’m sure modern horror fans will be pleased that he conjured up another “Paranormal Activity”, but for me, I find it difficult to see this one as just another title for the ‘A’ section of a subgenre attempting to overcompensate for its poor showing in previous years.
In the spring of 2010, the Quintanilla family travelled to their old rural farmhouse near Stiges, Spain for a quiet break together during the Easter holiday. To pass the time and to amuse themselves, teenage siblings Cristian and July set about investigating a local urban legend, that of The Girl of Garraf Woods, relating to a series of haunting and ghostly goings-on in a wooded labyrinth in a gated property near to the house. The pair decided to document their day-to-day adventures and their finding on video with he intention of posting the footage online at a later date.
Five days later, on the 4th April 2010, the bodies of the Quintanilla family were found in a farmhouse, the members having dies in extremely mysterious circumstances. In the aftermath, the police identified and reported the existence of 37 hours of recorded material relating to the events leading up to the grisly discovery. Atrocious finally reveals the shocking authentic footage of what really took place during those tragic five days.
Atrocious’s narrative easily reveals the simple sensations of classic horror. The typically nostalgic viewer doesn’t want to spend several minutes attempting to dissect and solve spooky plot twists like some second-rate Velma Dinkley. They would much rather just be fed a straightforward linear campfire story and enjoy scare tactics at ten minute intervals.
As you can fathom from the previous paragraphs, Luna has gotten the first aspect down to a tee. It’s the second that proves slightly bothersome as, for a large part of the film, there is absolutely nothing to be scared about. In fact, I clocked the first marginally disturbing plot element at almost forty minutes in when the family’s beloved dog is found dead down a well. That’s far too long to wait but it’s understandable as Luna attempts to mould your comprehension of the story initially.
So it begins very slow – merely a home video of two jaded spoiled brats on a family outing. Then slowly but surely it begins to flourish, not going into overkill but expanding into a night of tension and suspense that concludes in a blur of violent maliciousness. I hate to say it, though it was probably always going to come down to this, but it’s very much in the vein of Paranormal Activity from this aspect as the longer it goes on without anything actually happening, your nervous anticipation subsidises the suspenseful fear building up in your body.
We do garner an immediate understanding for the common “Legend of” ghost story approach through smart dialogue mostly. Luna, being only young himself, adopted a young cast of actors that could easily relate to his rendition of dialogue in youth culture. It’s almost Americanised in intelligence only with Spanish colloquialisms. Unlike so many Hollywood titles that wallow in being inconceivably hip, these characters are trendy yet realistic. You believe that the dialogue is at least a process of an actual family relationship even though it is completely scripted.
This is not to suggest that one might entirely accept that this “found footage” film is factual however as I felt that Cristian Valencia (who played Cristian) and Clara Moraleda (July) exhibited their failings as fledglings to the industry. It’s one thing being able to act well, but when attempting documentary style techniques in which the camera is very much fly-on-the-wall, you need not act, simply BE the character. Live the moments, don’t perform them. That never really panned out correctly with these two as they were very much aware of the camera’s presence.
All I can say is that, though fun at fleeting times, Atrocious is far from innovative. It’s definitely worth a watch or two but it definitely wouldn’t be a choice that would simply spring to mind amongst my vast DVD collection.