Atrocious (2010)

Today’s flavor was supposed to be House, a 40-year-old acid trip horror movie from Japan. But last night I was tired and a midnight showing just wasn’t in the cards. In its place I offer another foreign film, Atrocious, from Spain instead of Japan. Roughly the same neighborhood.

Castilian Spanish is ridiculous. It’s the de facto standard for all European Spanish-language broadcasts, even though it’s spoken only in Spain. The rest of the Spanish-speaking world, consisting of a like a billion people in the Americas, speaks Mexican Spanish. The most striking difference between the two, and the only one I care about enough to look up, is the pronunciation of certain ‘s’ and ‘z’ sounds as ‘th’, effectively giving the speaker a heavy lisp. So words like cinco come out as “thinko” rather than “sinko”.

Every language sounds weird to people who don’t speak it but for some reason this one has always bugged the crap outta me. Backing me up: all those millions of people outside of Europe who, though conquered and colonized by Spain, simply refused to suffer that one final indignity. It’s as if with one, lisp-free voice they all said, “You may take our continent and force your language on us, but you’ll never make us talk like Donald Duck.”

We r so excited about r craptastic vacation house.

The story: Young Cristian and his sister July (pronounced YOO-lee, unfortunately) like to do the odd bit of amateur ghost hunting. Despite the fact that their parents drive a Volvo that has a tape deck, they must be billionaires because the two possess not one but two professional grade digital video cameras. To be fair, one of these is borrowed from a friend, who must himself be some kind of web entrepreneur because he loans his $10,000 camera to a pair of teens headed to the woods. Anyway, that’s your set up.

Yes, let's run around the room. Next we can try juggling them.

The entire movie consists of Cristian and July’s footage, but near the beginning a title card says something to the effect of “Property of the Spanish National Police,” so we know bad stuff happened and now the kids’ recordings are in the hands of the coppers. But what terrible, nay, Atrocious, calamity could have befallen the plucky youngsters in that creepy-ass country house? Could it have something to do with the legend of Melinda, the woodland ghost who lays in wait for lost hikers? Only one way to find out.

I'd like to report an emergency. A giant camera is stuck to my hand.

Biggest letdown: The problem with Atrocious can summed up as style over verisimilitude. I’ve written before about how the found footage convention has been done to death in recent years and all that still holds. But, possibly because of the success of other Spanish found footage horror, Atrocious takes as a given that its audience won’t question why two teenagers are running around in the dark with a college education’s worth of hi-def cameras. Or why the terrified children are so conscientious about keeping the camera rolling at all times, like they’re paranormal combat journalists who care not for their own well-being so long as their story is told. I’m not so quick to overlook that sort of thing. When their lives are clearly in serious danger and the use of both hands for self-defense would be a good idea, they keep on filming, even to the point of abandoning one another in time of need. I can’t help but think the police reviewing this footage would have been all, “Put the fucking camera down and HELP HER, stupid thivilian!”

Sure that's a shitload of blood but you'll probably only need one hand to defend yourself. KEEP ROLLING.

Why you should watch: Atrocious is a pretty direct clone of Blair Witch, but the formula still works. The actors aren’t necessarily the most skilled (or even terribly interesting to watch), which is unfortunate, but when they’re running around the hedge maze you don’t really care if they’re likable or not. You’re too busy wondering what might pop out around the next corner.

AGH! Haunted furniture!

The thing Atrocious does best, and again this comes straight from Blair Witch, is keeping both natural and supernatural explanations viable right up to the end. There are valid arguments to be made on both sides as to what exactly those cameras captured, which gives you something to think about while and after you watch. I find that much more interesting than movies like Paranormal Activity, where it’s obvious within the first half hour (if not from the moment you read the title) that something other-worldly is afoot.

Memorable Moment: The one constant in found footage, or really any cinéma vérité-style horror, is that the most anxiety-laden bits come when the camera is focused on a quiet, ordinary environment. When nothing immediately jumps out for a scare, the audience starts squinting to see if there’s something they’re missing, scanning for any hint of movement. The most disturbing situations in this style aren’t the ones that make you jump the highest, but the minimalistic ones that draw you in and make you search for the thing you don’t want to see.

Maybe we should go back to the house. Nothing bad could happen there, right?

Toward the end, in the film’s overlong but generally effective night vision climax, one character is alone in a room with nothing but a camera, which is trained on the opposite wall. Noises seem to be coming from beyond the locked door, but your attention is caught by something to the left of that door. A handful of pixels seem to form the outline of a small, dark object in the corner. Was that there a second ago? And, wait, IS IT ROTATING NOW? The best part is that I’m still not sure what that was, or if it was moving at all.

Choice quote: “I don’t think it’s the spirit of a girl. I don’t believe in ghosts. What I do know is that my dad made me swear never to go in the woods around Garraf. And I’ve kept my promise.”

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