Let’s pretend, in the real world, that a piece of video evidence documenting a gruesome murder turns up in police hands. Going one better, let’s pretend the footage suggests, though doesn’t necessarily confirm, that the crime was supernatural in nature. What do you think we’d see in the footage? How much footage would there actually be? In what manner would it be presented and how much would we actually need to see to deduce what happened? A long problem I’ve had with the ‘found footage’ genre is that whilst it brings the horror viewer into a new perspective I find myself struggling more to suspend disbelief when the movie is trying to thrust realism as its selling point. This is one of the several crippling flaws of Atrocious, the debut film by Spanish director Fenando Barredo Luna, which proves a dying fad can earn some points through ingenuity.
When a family, the Quintanilla’s, go on a holiday to their old farmhouse near Sitges in Spain the two eldest siblings, Cristian (Cristian Valencia) and July (Clara Moraleda) attempt to entertain themselves by documenting (with two fairly top range video cameras) their surroundings, which includes an elaborate hedge maze supposedly home to a missing girl named Melinda. Their curiosity has tragic consequences when the footage is pried from their cold dead hands by the Spanish police department…
The premise is the stuff of campfires; it doesn’t offer anything new and even compared to others in the subgenre there’s little intrigue. Yes, the idea that the abandoned area next to your holiday home may house some murderous motherfucker is scary, but nothing about the tale of Melinda truly frightens, rather it raises questions that are answered in a clever twist at the film’s climax.
A common complaint with these movies, such as Cloverfield, is despite brisk running times they feel too long. This is why I asked how much of the found footage is relevant; since the main draw are the truly shocking moments everything else must find a purpose, inevitably spending too much time on the camera holders and their activities or padding it with overly long portions of heavy breathing and wandering… and when you’re haunted house is an overgrown labyrinth there’s plenty of opportunity for that. Admittedly the setting works for suspense in a number of ways: even when you’re familiar with the environment in the day, the night vision of the camera makes everything feel different and you’ll constantly see shadowy silhouettes that mess with your sub conscious.
As made effective in Paranormal Activity the film’s main draw is its tension and suspense; it’s when things aren’t happening that’s most frightening. Clever shifts in the narrative structure, done through the use of a photo reel near the end and footage that is rewound for more clarity also help in luring the viewer into a sense of false security. If you’re just a bit squeamish the final moments are so well built up you’ll be forced to look away… you’ll just have to ask yourself afterwards if it was worth it.
It encompasses most flaws of ‘found footage’ horror movies – including the seemingly obvious instinct to retain the heavy and burdening camera when trying to escape an axe murderer – but Atrocious is generally a good watch. The story and set-up are as generic as possible and the characters mildly annoying, but its heightened anxiety and tension leaves it hanging just below the best of its peers.
Words > Graham Ashton