Time for another review… and as seems to be the case lately here at the ol’ Litterbox, it’s another Spanish horror effort, 2010’s shaky cam cinema “faux-cumentary”, “Atrocious”. Yep…. yet another of those “shaky cam” amateur film clip things….. but this one has more to be blamed on the recent success of “Paranormal Activity” than “The Blair Witch Project”. Still…. it had better be good….. I’m still traumatized by the eye wrenching I took watching Korea’s “Deserted House”.
Our synopsis? So here it goes: “On the 4th of April, 2010, the Quintanilla family were all found murdered in their country house in rural Spain. Police reported the existence of 37 hours of recorded evidence discovered at the scene of the grisly event. “Atrocious” shows the real found footage in all its entirety.
The Quintanilla family traveled to their old farm house in Sitges, where Christian and his sister Julie investigated the Legend of the ghostly “Girl in the Garraf Woods” for their Internet Blog on the Paranormal. Both of them used video cameras to record all of their investigations of the folktale. On the fifth day after their arrival they and their family were found dead under strange circumstances. “Atrocious” shows the last five days of the lives of Cristian Quintanilla and his family and also shows the strange situations that they lived in those moments, many of which remain unexplained even to this day.”
Hmmmm…. as you know, I’m not much of a fan of these “found footage” films. Sure… they can be made on the cheap… with unknown actors… and there’s a certain quirky charm to the general idea, but usually they also share that annoying look of home movies shot by drunken frat boys on Halloween. Can’t say that makes for epic cinematography… it usually gives you a good 70-90 minutes of badly out of focus, incomprehensible footage that…. for me at least… is more a pain to watch than it is to figure out what the heck is going on. Can they be scary? Yes… but it’s a tricky bit to manage with any real success. “The Blair Witch Project” being the first of these, will always be the big yardstick against which all the followers will be measured, and although imitation is the purist form of flattery, it’s not always a good enough reason to make a film either. Will this one stand out from the rest of those clones? Guess I’ll find out…..
This one was another of those DVD’s that my sweet Carolyn bought for me…. She’s not a fan of them, but she always wants to show me she’s thinking of me whenever she can, and when she found this one at out local Walmart there was no way she could pass up a chance to buy it. She was so happy to tell me it was… “One of those foreign horror movies you like, Miyu…. Please tell me you don’t already have this one….”. Sigh…. at least it tells me she loves me…. and what the heck, sometimes she even lucks out and finds us a winner. 😉 Given that… I knew we just had to give it a try… even though the “Cinéma vérité” style of film-making has never been my favorite.
So our film gets off to a start as we get the requisite flaky “bad camera footage” and a segue to a quick shot of the Police evidence warning, in Spanish of course, before we start watching the film… supposedly edited down from 37 hours of raw footage found at our creepy murder scene. In this we meet our two main characters, the Quintanilla siblings Cristian (played by Cristian Valencia) and his sister Julie (played by Clara Moraleda). (For some inexplicable reason… the subtitles identify her throughout the film as July… like the month… but nope… her name is pronounced Julie… like the female name, so this is how your Favorite Catgirl will insist on spelling it…. subtitles be damned!! So there….. ;)) It seems they are a couple of amateur “Ghost Hunters”… doing that whole debunking and Scooby-Doo thing together with Julie’s boyfriend. But a family holiday has put the stop to that… interfering with their latest “investigation of the paranormal”. Luckily… it would seem… the old family summer house is located right smack dab in the middle of the Haunted Forest of Garraf where the spirit of a local girl is reputed to lurk spending her time playing guide to lost travelers in the woods. So… even with the dull prospect of a vacation with boring Mom and Dad staring them in the face, they’ll still be able to do their thing and hopefully get some footage for their Blog.
They are armed throughout the story with two cameras… one belonging to Cristian and one borrowed from Julie’s boyfriend… so the rest of the film consists of edited together segments from each of the cameras allowing the film to jump from character to character easily without the cumbersome plot element of constantly having to hand off the camera to somebody in order to get some screen time. That actually works fairly well… and given that the footage presented is supposedly edited after the fact by the police to allow them to better understand the time-line of events doesn’t come across as forced or artificial in any way. The distracting elements of “shaky-cam” are all in place, but thankfully not as severely used as in some other films of this type I’ve seen. Outside of some out-of-focus amateur camera stuff and a little of the old “damaged footage” bits, it’s all fair easy on they eyes and not to hard to follow. One element… perhaps used a wee bit too much is the idea of “night vision” mode. It leaves imaged washed out in that greenish tint that such footage is always assumed to be shot in and hard to distinguish in the night time shots. Some of that would have been OK… but here it’s almost pushed too far. Naturally… actually shooting the film like this would have been a nightmarish and nearly impossible chore, so in reality it’s all done in post-production, but the look is just about right. If anything, it’s actually a lot less grainy than you might remember from seeing actual stuff like it shot by the military during Desert Storm…. so your Favorite Catgirl is willing to cut the filmmakers some slack in this regard.
The story itself? Not too original, but not unbearably incomprehensible either. The “Ghost Girl of Garraf” is never really a part of the story… merely giving our budding young paranormalists an excuse to explore the creepy woods near their summer house. Here we find the most striking location of the whole film, an abandoned and overgrown old Hedge Maze behind a locked gate. This locale… very much a real place… is just amazingly creepy. I’ve been scared of just these sorts of places ever since seeing Jack Nicholson chase little Danny Torrance through one in “The Shining”. Here we get to contrast the gloomy and deserted look of the place as seen in the light of day, with the nightmarish and oppressive feeling it has when seen in the eerie green glow of the Night Vision camera lenses.
So… if there really isn’t any actual ghost…. then just what the heck is going on? Let’s simply say… there is an evil presence that lurks here at the old summer house. It’s malevolent, it’s evil, and it means our young protagonists some serious harm, but just what it turns out to be is not what I expected…. especially given that no foundation is ever laid to explain it or why it needs to strike out here and now with such fury. I’ll not spoil things for you by telling you just what it is…. but I’m thinking it will be a bit of a disappointment to most expecting more of a supernatural element.
Expect either of our young filmmakers to survive? Nawww…. I’m not giving anything away by confirming the one thing about films like this that always seem to be a bit of a fly in the ointment for me. By the end of this one everybody is dead…. but then that was the whole point to the baffling mystery reconstruction of the film footage anyway. I’ve always thought that this was the one weakness of these sorts of films…. you just can’t really root for our heroes to win. Heck… you know going in that it’s just a matter of time before they die…. horribly. It’s just soooo darn hard to get invested in caring about a character knowing that. In basic… they are just an exercise in seeing just how long it takes to happen and just how messy and terrible it ends up being. Never anything I look forward to. Ah well….
So what’s the general feeling I have for this one then? Surprising I ended up liking it a lot, and that’s saying something given my usual distaste for these sorts of films. A lot of it probably comes from the two leads here, who are just about perfect in their roles as siblings doomed to die at the hands of unknown evil, and the other goes to the location scout who picked the absolutely perfect place to film this story. I just can’t shake how perfectly ordinary… and yet perfectly unsettling a place it is. It’s a very bare bones film… with no real satisfying conclusion to the tale, but it does work overall in the way that I believe it was intended to. Given this, I feel pretty darn comfortable giving it 4 “Meows” out of 5…. not because the film itself is a triumph of storytelling, but because it sets itself a goal… sticks to it… and ends up doing exactly what it was probably intended to do, scare and unsettle the audience with a real feeling of dread regarding the terrible events it chronicles. I’m thinking that if you are nutty about “The Blair Witch Project” or “Paranormal Activity” , or any of those numerous “ghost hunting” reality TV shows currently out there, you’ll probably like this one too.
The Region 1 NTSC DVD is simple, presenting the film in wide screen, letter-boxed format with both the original Spanish audio as well as a decent English dub or with English subtitles. It comes with a good “Making of” feature… also subtitled that gives nice insight into the production, casting, and location work for it. It’s easily available most places for about 10-13$ US and is well worth a look if a copy turns up near you. You definitely could do worse….
Yep… there’s a trailer of course… and here we go!