THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
The Spanish import Atrocious is a primer on how not to make a found footage horror movie. Yes, it incorporates all the same elements that The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and Paranormal Activity used so well, yet it fumbles every single one of them. I suspect that aspiring filmmakers believe that the ultra low-budget, no-frills nature of the found footage picture makes one easy to pull off. This movie proves that thought to be untrue. Atrocious is the latest entry in a summer-long series of horror pictures coming to AMC theaters (and, shortly after, DVD and VOD) courtesy of Bloody Disgusting. The previous releases - Rammbock (Berlin Undead), YellowBrickRoad, Phase 7 and Cold Fish - were all ambitious and original; this one, sadly, doesn't belong in their company.
The story is ridiculously basic: The Quintanilla family visits their old farmhouse in Sitges. Two of the teens in the family, Christian and July, grill their parents about an old legend in which the ghost of a girl could be seen in the massive labyrinth outside. It is said that if someone gets lost at night, she “helps them find their way.” Naturally, Christian and July decide to make a film about the legend, and...well, you know the drill on these things. Happy endings for the characters are anathema in found footage pictures.
So, we have a few major problems here. The first is that the characters are never developed. This is in part due to script laziness, but also due to the fact that writer/director Fernando Barreda Luna has Christian and July running duel cameras, yet rarely pointing them at each other, or anyone else for that matter. Most of the time, people are partially out of frame, or the cameras are pointed at the floor, the ceiling, or whatever objects surround them. If you want the audience to identify with the characters, it helps to put them in front of the camera once in a while so we can see them.
The second problem is more basic: the legend being explored here is not particularly scary. A girl who helps lost people find their way? This is a far cry in menace from the Blair Witch, who allegedly led children into a basement for torture and murder.
The third problem is the biggest: Atrocious is ineptly made. Luna's big set piece finds Christian lost in the labyrinth at night, trying to find his mother and sister, and becoming disoriented in the process. In theory, that could be terrifying. However, the movie literally gives us twenty straight minutes of passing shrubbery, seen through the night vision lens of a video camera. I mean, who in their right mind wants to see that? The sequence just goes on and on and on, until it becomes almost comical in its repetitiveness. If you want to scare the crap out of your viewers, this is not an effect you wish to achieve.
The fourth, and final, problem is the ending, which tries to deliver a psychological explanation for the terrors we've just seen. Even though I don't like Atrocious one bit, I would never drop spoilers. Let's just say that the “explanation” is the standard one horror movies use when they feel the need to provide justification for things. There's nothing new or original about it. You will roll your eyes at the familiarity.
With its found footage format, and use of a labyrinth and a well as key plot points, Atrocious is like The Blair Witch Project meets The Shining meets The Ring, but with no semblance of quality whatsoever. The title is depressingly accurate.
( out of four)
Atrocious is rated R for grisly images and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes.