UK Release date: Out now
Director: Fernando Barreda Luna
Starring: Christian Valencia, Clara Moraleda, Sergi Martin, Chus Pereiro, Xavi Dos
Running time: 70 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
Not only does the line “The mind is like a labyrinth, in which anyone can get lost” open Fernando Barreda Luna’s shaky-cam horror, it pretty much describes the entire plot of the movie. It would be too easy to rip a film called Atrocious to pieces, Luna has kind of opened himself up to attack on this one, but I’m happy to report that his Spanish thriller debut - a cross between The Blair Witch Project and Silent House - doesn’t quite live up to (or should that be down to) it’s critic baiting title.
The Quintanilla family travel to their old farmhouse in Sitges, where Christian (Christian Valencia) and July (Clara Moraleda), two bored siblings, investigate the Legend of the Girl in the Garraf woods, using video cameras to record their findings – because it wouldn’t be a shaky-cam horror without them. Five days later, on 4th April 2010, the children are found murdered in their rural home. Police report the existence of 37 hours of recorded evidence, which has been edited together into the footage we are about to be shown.
So the plot is perhaps a little too familiar, sending Christian and July on a tour of the labyrinth that surrounds their home, armed with two video cameras, lots of batteries, and very little common sense. The legend states that if you are lost and alone at night, she will appear and show you the way. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Especially if you get lost inside this particular labyrinth, obligatory eeriness boosted by creepy wells and rusty cages. Luna throws a small dog into the mix, customary it would seem in the age of Paranormal Activity, and a younger brother who barely gets a look in. From here on in it’s business as usual.
The set up is not only obvious, but kind of laborious too. If you’re already familiar with this particular sub-genre of filmmaking, you’ll know what to expect from the get-go. Luna doesn’t really help himself, Atrocious takes an age to get going and the first act moves slower than Miss Daisy’s chauffeur. There’s very little tension to be drawn from the familiarity of it all, and the biggest crime of all is that Luna doesn’t even try. I would expect a few cheap jump cuts in a film like this, some booming bass lines at the very least, but Atrocious goes nowhere for the first forty five minutes, focusing on a pair of dreary teens who should’ve stayed at home and read Hansel and Gretel instead.
An early scene involving a barking dog provokes signs of promise, but it’s not until late in the second act that Luna raises his game. And so he should, any director adopting the first person perspective has an easy ride when it comes to cranking up the tension. There’s something about the protagonists (and the viewers) restricted line of sight that brings about a sense of anxiety. You never quite know what’s lurking in the shadows, and even the laziest of filmmakers can achieve the required effect without making much effort – especially if he introduces the dreaded ‘night vision’ tool. This probably won’t come as much of a surprise to you, but Fernando Barreda Luna introduces the dreaded ‘night vision’ tool.
Suspense comes a calling when night vision falls, but Luna milks it for almost twenty minutes, serving up a feast of blurry camerawork, unappeasable nausea and little else. It’s nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times before and it really does go on forever. Your mind will start to wander as Christian and July stumble about in the darkness for the umpteenth time, and you might even ask yourself how Christian is able to film the entire visit without any thought for his or his families safety. I know we wouldn’t have a premise without it, but really, the idea that Christian would continue to record as his sister is being chased through the house by a murderous would be psychopath ghost type thing is stretching credibility just a tad.
The final reveal is handled well enough but a sickening sense of déjà vu is present throughout. Atrocious doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its title, but that’s only because I’ve always found the reality of first person horror movies terrifying. If you’re already immune to the likes of Paranormal Activity and [REC], turn away now. But not for too long, there’s very little chance of this tiresome thriller showing you the way.