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Saturday, October 8, 2011

ATROCIOUS -- DVD review by porfle

Ever since THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT terrified some and left others wondering what the fuss was all about, filmmakers have been cranking up their camcorders and trying their hand at making the next really scary horror mockumentary.  Some, like the recent EVIL THINGS, come close to recapturing that old spooky vibe, while others are about as exciting as watching somebody's home videos.  And then there's ATROCIOUS (2010), which left me feeling just about as creeped out as any movie has in a long time.

Cristian Quintanilla (Cristian Valencia) and his sister July (Clara Moraleda) are amateur documentarians whose specialty is investigating paranormal urban legends.  When the family takes an Easter vacaion in their secluded villa in Spain, they find that the old house comes with its own legend of a young girl named Melinda who disappeared in the surrounding woods long ago and is now said to be haunting them.  Camcorders at the ready, Cristian and July discover an overgrown hedge labyrinth next to the house, surrounded by a deep, dark forest.  Melinda's forest.

ATROCIOUS follows the usual pattern of spending a whole lot of time with everyday happy-type stuff to lull us into a false sense of security before things start to get scary.  We get to know Mom and Dad, little brother Jose, and family friend Carlos before bro and sis make a thorough exploration of the hedge maze during sunny daylight hours, goodnaturedly needling each other as siblings do.  Even then, they easily get lost, and we start to wonder what it'll be like out there in the dark when they're running in blind terror, which we know is pretty much inevitable.

That big old house is spooky enough with its winding stairways and dank basement filled with junk, including a vintage TV/VCR combo that will figure into the story later on.  From their attic bedroom the three siblings keep watch on the rusty gate leading into the labyrinth, and are filled with apprehension when strange sounds can be heard eminating from it.  When their dog disappears, their search turns up a grisly discovery that foretells the dire events in store for the family. 

Although the film is barely 75 minutes long, some viewers will probably find all this preliminary stuff interminable.  Somehow, though, a well-done mockumentary of this sort tends to hold me in fairly rapt attention as I tensely await, and dread, the onset of the bad things.  Besides, a movie like this has to be allowed to build if it's going to deliver more than simple visceral shocks.

Here, it's the disappearance of little Jose while searching for their family dog that drives the rest of the family to rush frantically into that pitch black hedge maze at night.  Using the night vision on their camcorders (thus giving them a logical reason to still be carrying the damn things), Cristian and July find themselves stumbling through a nightmare world filled with ominous shapes and strange sounds, until they finally encounter what they've been looking for all along.  And that's just when ATROCIOUS really starts getting scary.

You have to hand it to writer-director Fernando Barredo Luna for managing to squeeze maximum chills out of such minimal filmmaking.  His cast of very natural actors get a lot of the credit, too, not only for making their characters so believable but for actually doing much of the camerawork themselves.  Adding to the spontaneity of their performances is the fact that the story's final reveal was kept hidden from them until filming.

The DVD from Vivendi and Bloody Disgusting is in widescreen with 5.1 sound.  You can listen to either the original Spanish soundtrack with English subtitles or the English dub.  Extras consist of a 15-minute "making of" featurette and the film's trailer.   

The final sequence, a combination of home video, police video and crime-scene photographs, and other disturbing footage, pays off in a way that is lacking in the more open-ended examples of the genre, and left me with the queasy realization that I'd just been truly frightened.  Of course, you have to use your own imagination to fully appreciate what ATROCIOUS doesn't show--suggestion can still be scarier than the most graphic visuals if you're properly tuned in to what the film is trying to do.  If you want to be scared, try tuning into this nifty little chiller.

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