(15) Running time: 76 minutes
Director: Fernando Barreda Luna
Writer: Fernando Barreda Luna
Starring: Cristian Valencia, Clara Moraleda, Chus Pereiro
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
I remember raving about this Spanish found footage horror some time ago now. The first trailer showed tons of promise, and the early word from the film festivals was that this was one Hell of a shocker and one of the best the genre had to offer. Now, finally released on DVD & Bluray, does Atrocious live up to all the hype? In a way, yes it does, but to be perfectly honest with you, there are much better found footage horrors out there. Having said that, Atrocious does offer up many moments of pure, adrenalin pumped fear and delivers enough shocks (eventually) to give even the most casual horror fan a sudden jolt.
The story is kept to a bare minimum, as is the setting and build up. We briefly meet the Quintanilla family, Father Jose (Sergi Martin), Mother Debora (Pereiro), children Cristian (Valencia), July (Moraleda) and youngest of the family Carlos (Jose Masegosa) as they all head off to a large mansion in the country for the Easter Holidays. Cristian and July both have video camera’s and decide to film their holiday, although they quickly get bored as there is very little to do. Learning of an urban legend about a girl called Melinda who haunts the Garraf woods surrounding the house, the story is the girl went missing in 1940. Supposedly if you get lost in those woods at night she appears, some say she shows you the way out, others say different, while others again mention of a noise they would rather not hear ever again. The woods are strictly forbidden to enter, and even the Father’s friend who visits the house confirms this by telling how his parents made him swear never to enter them. The set up is well written, intriguing and a little unsettling when you hear the tales told. The actor’s do their best to be realistic in their desperation to film something, and so the stage is set for both Cristian and July to sneak into the woods during the day and explore.
What we see is footage they filmed, which was found by the police after the entire family were found massacred. The big question is what went on in those woods, and what killed them. Was it Melinda’s ghost? You will have to watch Atrocious to find out, but the answers do come, even if they are a little unexpected. The films build up is short and sweet, and rarely wastes any time, and once we get into the maze of trees and bushes, cleverly planted to confuse those who enter, the film shifts up a gear. Even by daylight the woods, or maze as I prefer to call it, looks a little creepy. Cristian decides to mark points after getting lost on the first visit, and when the family dog begins barking at something in the woods at night, Cristian sets up a camera to film the spooky gate which leads into the Garraf woods to try and capture something. The film gets set to shift up a gear again now that we suddenly start entering full on creepy territory, and the final half hour of the film is a relentless assault on the senses as we finally enter the woods at night…
What makes the Garraf woods so incredibly unsettling by night is the fact you have become very familiar with them after so many visits by day, and this is where the film really works. The setting of both the house and the woods are superb, and the handheld camera only emphasises the almost spiritual feel to it all. The actors do their best, but there is a little too much shouting going on, and many occasion see’s the camera placed on the floor, but in a perfect position to capture what is happening and it loses it natural believability because of this. That said, there are a number of full on creepy moments on offer here, one being the dog going missing, others being blood tracks found in the leaves and some banging noises going on in the house. A creepy basement in the house itself is not nearly used to its full advantage, and when it is used it works, but is not nearly used enough. There are a number of bizarre decisions by the cast running in fear, like locking July in a cupboard rather than sticking together, and running into the woods in a blind panic, but not forgetting to take the time to find the camera (although, had they not we wouldn’t have had a film!) The ending is a twist totally unnecessary and while it does have impact, kind of ruins what came before it. The ending is also presented in a truly irritating fashion, with a number of scenes repeated by having the film rewind itself, which is a nice gimmick, but daft. This rewinding gimmick also starts the film, and on reflection, is an incredibly annoying idea which would have been much better being left out of the film completely.
However, for all its flaws and mistakes, Atrocious does offer up one of the most frightening and relentlessly disturbing twenty minutes in a horror you will see all year as we enter the woods at night. Suddenly, with the jittery and shaking camera, your mind plays tricks on you as you start to see things which may or may not be there. It’s a wonderful twenty minutes which had my dear wife, yet again, cowering behind her hands like a baby asking ‘whats happening’. Oh the joys of saying its all over when you know its not, and she removes her hands just in time for the next scare! The film worked for her, and it also worked for me, but having seen so many of this type of film, it needs something really, truly special to get that wow factor, and sadly Atrocious just doesn’t quite get it. It’s a good, reliable horror but nothing more. It will scare the pants off you in places, and on the basis of this, I believe we have a director here who will go on to much bigger and better things. Atrocious is definitely worth your time, give it a go and I doubt you will be disappointed, but for me, it was just missing that extra special something.