REVIEW – Atrocious (2010)

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.

REVIEW – Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

THE ZONE have my review of Ruggero Deodato’s hugely influential found footage horror film Cannibal Holocaust.

Watching the film for the first time since my teens, I was struck both by how poorly it worked as a horror film and how brilliantly it worked as a piece of postmodern cinema. The most shocking thing about Cannibal Holocaust is not the casual use of rape, the deliberate cruelty to animals or the shameless pandering to ignorant prejudices regarding the developing world, it is the way in which Deodato uses the format of the film to point an accusatory directly at his audience. In fact, the film’s nested narration reminded me of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and its similarly mephitic critique of colonialism:

The point of Marlow’s tale is thus not his encounter with Kurtz but the context of his observations about the journey. By providing us with an extra layer of narration that draws us even further back from the events in the Congo, Conrad is inviting us to reflect upon the comparison between the Thames and the Congo itself. For while Conrad is clear that the heart of darkness resides in deepest Africa, the suggestion is that even the well-groomed hillsides of the Thames valley were once a place of impossible savagery. By providing us with an extra layer of narration, Deodato is not only drawing quite a clear comparison between the peerless Kurtz and the peerless documentary filmmakers, he is also inviting us to reflect upon the context in which their story is told. Indeed, the meat of Cannibal Holocaust lies not in the story of the filmmakers or even the academic’s encounters with the TV producers, but in our own willingness to look at the bigger picture and realise the similarities between the fictional events of the film and the real-world practices of filmmakers and journalists.

Arguably a classic, but for all the wrong reasons.