I caught the live streaming VOD on Bloody Disgusting of "Atrocious" today and I like it. Unlike other found footage movies, there are two video cameras involved, giving you the main characters' perspectives of events as things subtly go from ordinary to deadly.
"Atrocious" is a Spanish found-footage film that starts out as a ghost hunting movie that turns into a slasher flick. This is done through the clever use of misdirection and the characters dropping seemingly benign clues that hint at the truth of what is going on.
Normally I don't care for the slash and hack genre, but... this movie is different.
There is no excessive gore, no gratuitous slayings or moments of "torture porn" in this film and yet, it still comes off as brutal.
Everything you see, from the moment the movie starts with the opening quote about the mind being a labyrinth, to the events that lead up to the very end, makes it a great horror film with a solid plot-line.
"Atrocious" is about Cristian and July, two siblings that like to record their paranormal investigations. The movie starts out introducing us to the duo and their family as they travel to their large farm house in the countryside. It is a little slow, but that is done on purpose. One of the tenets of the horror genre is to create a stark contrast between the ordinary and the profound with grotesque or out of place imagery that shocks and terrifies the audience.
As usual, the kids don't listen to the locals or their parent's warnings and go exploring the maze of trees by their house, eager to catch a spirit on film. The hypnotic and winding pathways through the labyrinth are overgrown from years of neglect.
As Cristian and July explore the labyrinth, they spot a gazebo-like structure and find a dried out well. The well corresponds with a story Carlos, a friend of the family, told them about the woods and how the girl that died there now haunts it.
On their way back they come across a woman in the woods that looks like their mother. The weird thing is, she is just standing there, staring off into space.
Afterwards, everything seems normal. They dig through dusty storage boxes in their basement and come across a copy of Dario Argento's classic film, "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage." It is a serial killer movie with one heck of a twist at the end. This is yet another hint of what is to come.
The family dog, Robin, starts barking at the gate that leads to the woods in the middle of the night. The film footage cuts out before you can see what it he is barking at.
The next day, the dog is missing. Cristian and July enter the labyrinth to search for him. They come across Robin's collar on the forest floor and a trail of blood that leads to the well, where their dog's broken and battered corpse was thrown in.The dog's blood is smeared on the stone wall of the well, which is where the girl that now haunts the woods had been killed. But this is just another misdirection.
They don't tell their little brother Jose or their emotionally distant mother what they saw, and try to decide what to do about the dog.
So far, it seems that when they approached the well, they angered the ghost and she killed their dog in retribution.
Later that night they are awoken by their mother screaming for Jose. They all run out into the woods, thinking that he went out by himself into the labyrinth to search for the dog.
And that's when everything goes horribly, horribly wrong.
Their mother runs off ahead of them, (we are informed earlier on by their father, before he left the house to return to work, that she grew up there and knew the woods better than anyone) and Cristian and July are separated as they search for their little brother.
July hears a scraping sound of cement on cement as she approaches an ornamental urn at a corner of an intersection of the maze. You get to see a quick glimpse of someone standing on the path ahead of her, before she turns around and runs away, screaming for her life.
Cristian is attacked and manages to escape. He doesn't get a look at who grabbed him, he just runs in panic, searching frantically for his mother and sister.
After the siblings catch up with each other Cristian sees his mother's flashlight and runs off ahead of July. On his approach, he discovers that it was dropped on the ground. His mother is nowhere to be seen, and he lost his sister when he ran to catch up with her.
Cristian finds July tied to the columns of the gazebo, with blood flowing down her chin and all over the front of her shirt. They manage to run back to the house and lock the front door behind them. Then, July sits down next to the fireplace and moves the grate, the burnt up corpse of their little brother falls out.
The attacker starts to break through the front door with a large axe (which Cristian used earlier in the film to cut wood. Object placement... Learn it.) and shortly afterward the power goes out.
Cristian helps July hide in a large cupboard in the house's old kitchen and then runs up stairs to his room as the attacker crashes through the door.
You sit there, waiting, breathless, as Cristian barricades the door and hides in his room, with the camera trained on the door. There are sounds of things being broken. Then, horrible footsteps as the attacker comes up the stairs and slams into the door. But the person cannot get in and retreats.
Cristian waits quite a while, and doesn't leave his room until the power to the house come back on. There is the sound of a TV playing as he heads back down the steps and finds that the house has been ransacked. And July is missing-- all that remains of her presence are smears of blood in the cupboard.
Cristian heads downstairs to the basement, where the TV is, and the narrator on the program is talking about schizophrenia, and how it sometimes will not develop until after a woman has children.
To his horror, he realizes that it is his mother on the TV screen. The TV is playing a tape from when she was hospitalized for killing her baby daughter. She believed there was a woman that spoke to her, and made her kill the infant. Then, we see Cristian's mother walk up behind him, holding the large axe and kills him.
The aftermath of her onslaught is bloody and brutal. You see July's body, where she was propped up on the block used for chopping firewood and had her head cut off.
In the end, their mother was never found.
A well thought out plot, good acting with believable characters, and subtle visuals of violence make "Atrocious" is one heck of a scary movie.
So, what did this found-footage movie do right, that so many others seem to get wrong?
1. Pacing. Timing, especially in horror films, is everything. Do something too fast, or too slow and you lose people's interest.
2. Plot. It has a unique plot with perfect murder mystery misdirection that keeps you on the edge of your seat right up until the big reveal at the end.
3. Less is More. "Atrocious" has just enough violence, or the threat of violence, to make it seem real and not overdone. Sometimes the understatement of just having blood smeared on a wall is enough to shock a viewer, and does more to affect them emotionally than showing a knife plunging through a person's eye-ball.
4. Story Telling Themes. "Atrocious" uses common themes associated with warning tales and horror stories:
- The Woods- a scary and dangerous place that in medieval times was fraught with peril; brigands, half starved wolves, witches, malicious ghosts, and child stealing fairies.
- The Labyrinth-- A labyrinth is symbolic of a person's emotional and mental journey; how we sometimes retread the same paths over and over in our attempt to solve our problems. Labyrinths are also associated with the underworld and are found in several mythological legends. In the movie, there is a metal gate around the edge of the property, leading into the woods, that has been chained and padlocked shut. When they find the key, they remove the chain and leave the gate door wide open. The symbolism is astounding. The labyrinth is shut up, locked up tight, and when they unlock it and open the gate, the evils that dwell therein come rushing out. This is much like a person's mind; forget about the past, lock it away in your head and don't think about it. But the instant something happens to unlock it, the bad memories or personal demons come out to wreak havoc.
- The Mother-- a mother figure is thought to be a nurturing, life giving presence, but she has a darker side. And just as she can give life, she can take it away.
5. The characters and their actions are believable. They don't become total jerks out of no-where or enter into "action man" mode where they become the unflappable action hero that can take on anything without feeling or displaying any emotions whatsoever.
6. Misdirection. What the characters think is happening to them coincides with what the audience perceives as happening. Even though the clues are there, right from the start of the movie, the misdirection of information is handled so subtly, that when the truth is revealed, it is astonishing.