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REVIEW – Atrocious (2010)

September 30, 2011

THE ZONE have my review of Fernando Barreda Luna’s found footage horror film Atrocious.

One of the more bizarre quirks in the current cinematic landscape is the popularity of Spanish genre films. Seemingly inspired by the trailblazing success of such Guillermo del Tor-produced horror films as Guillem Morales’ Julia’s Eyes (2010) and J.A. Bayona’s The Orphanage (2007), British distributors seem to be falling over themselves to release every half-baked Spanish horror flick they can get their hands on. Given the marketplace’s current fondness for Spanish genre and the commercial re-invigoration of the found footage genre by Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity (2007), Atrocious must have seemed like money in the bank and while that may very well prove to be the case, the film itself is nothing short of disastrous:

Despite an opening act that promises an intense familial psychodrama, Atrocious soon devolves into endless footage of people running through mazes and basements. As Blair Witch demonstrated, the use of night-vision, shaky camerawork, sinister noises, shadowy figures and plenty of screaming, swearing, and terrified heavy breathing can be supremely effective in generating tension without the need for elaborate scoring or special effects. However, while Atrocious uses all the toys in the Blair Witch toy-box, it fails to realise that Blair Witch‘s effectiveness relied upon both a good deal of restraint and the effective use of exposition to prime the pumps. Blair Witch used its signature shaky cameras sparingly and always prefaced them with huge amounts of exposition so even if you couldn’t really tell what was going on, you knew what you were supposed to see and your mind simply filled in the blanks.

Lacking the post-cinematic reflexive intelligence of both Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project, Atrocious is a case study in the death of a genre cycle. As I explain in my review, cycles emerge when a breakthrough hit creates a market for imitation. In the 70s, people simply could not watch enough slasher movies and in the 00s people simply couldn’t see enough zombie movies. Atrocious is one of the films that ends cycles because while it is clearly attempting to jump on the found footage bandwagon, it completely fails to recognise what it was about the found footage films that made them so interesting.

Clearly, Fernando Barreda Luna looked at The Blair Witch Project and concluded that what attracted audiences to that film was hand-held camera footage of people running around a wood. I have a lot of time for The Blair Witch Project both as a postmodern text and as a piece of techinically proficient filmmaking but to look at Myrick and Sanchez’s film and conclude that it was all about the woods really is to miss the point.

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