Dir. Fernando Barredo Luna

The Quintanilla family head back to their old rural farmhouse near Sitges, Spain, for a quiet break during the Easter holiday. Teenage siblings Christian and July set about investigating a local urban legend relating to a series of hauntings and ghostly goings-on in a wooded labyrinth in a gated property beside their house. The pair decides to document their day-to-day investigations on video with the intention of posting the footage online at a later date.

Five days later however, the bodies of the Quintanilla family are found in the house, everyone having died in extremely bloody and mysterious circumstances.

Atrocious is the kids’ film footage presented to us as police evidence revealing the shocking events which took place during those last few tragic days. Despite the connotations its title might suggest - Atrocious is actually far from atrocious. Unfurling as the latest in a recent wave of 'found footage' films in a similar vein to The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, [REC] and so on, it takes its time to build atmosphere and intrigue before letting rip with some very stressful and creepy stuff indeed.

While it doesn’t offer us anything particularly new or groundbreaking, it still succeeds because of some effectively realised moments that take the basic template of the found footage subgenre and slightly subvert it. Taking time to introduce us to the characters (not as annoying as it sounds), director Barredo Luna generates moments of genuine tension and a slow-burning foreboding is evident from the outset. Adding to the sense of realism is the largely improvised dialogue – though at times this consists of the characters describing things we can see for ourselves, or just stating the obvious - and naturalistic performances. Argento fans will also get a kick out of the scene where the kids find some old videos in the basement and decide to watch The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. One of the most understatedly spine-chilling moments comes during the scene when the siblings are discussing local urban legends with their father’s childhood friend. He relays them the tale of the Girl of Garraf Woods - by the fire no less - and just by utilising the power of words (stuff about an old well, the devil and whispering in the darkness…), sets a creepy mood that permeates the rest of the film.

Atrocious is peppered with ominous shots that add to the sense of dread – doors into dark rooms left ajar, the night-vision footage of the gate leading into the labyrinth, an unidentified figure standing stock-still in the woods. The scenes filmed in the labyrinth are also incredibly stressful, even if they do run the risk of becoming quite repetitive. As the sibling’s sense of panic increases they flee through the maze becoming increasingly disorientated – and therefore ensuring that we also become increasingly disorientated. The long, narrow paths, tall dark trees and hedgerows take on a claustrophobic effect and the way in which it is filmed creates the impression that at any moment someone or something could jump out from the darkness where it had been patiently lurking. Testament to the look of the labyrinth, even the scenes set in it during the day are saturated in creepiness; the sun-parched trees and dead plants enhancing the wilted atmosphere of apprehension. The discovery of a spooky well echoes events in Ringu and proves to be just as unsettling.

As with The Shining, Atrocious also conjures uneasiness from within the family unit itself. Christian and July’s parents seem quite distant and there’s some brief discussion of their mother’s apparent nervousness at returning to the old house. The father is also absent for a time which casts some suspicion on him too. Why are the parents so keen for the kids to stay out of the labyrinth? What is the house’s connection with the urban legend the kids become fascinated with? All is eventually revealed in a twisted ending that, while not entirely surprising, is still satisfying and troubling and manages to become more disturbing the more you ponder it.

Atrocious (cert. 15) is released by Revolver Entertainment on 19th September 2011. DVD extras include a “Making of” feature.

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Lord of Filth said…
Excellent review James. I really enjoyed the movie. Sure, I would have liked to have seen certain elements expanded on, but for what it was it worked very well.
James Gracey said…
Absolutely. I watched it having heard nothing about it and having no real expectations. I was pleasantly surprised/really creeped out (a winning combination!).

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