Bear with me here. What I’m going to tell you might sound a little nutty…. but… the stellar, unnerving dread of The Blair Witch Project may have finally met its match. More surprising still? That it would do so in an equally uneven Spanish fright-fest, by another first-time writer-director.
This is not to say that Atrocious is as good a film as TBWP. Not by a long shot. However, if you were a fan of the way that Blair Witch creeped into the lizard-brain part of yourself… the part that is afraid of the unknown, of being alone in the dark with terrifying sounds, and of abandonment… then some part of you will enjoy this little picture. But be readily warned: Atrocious feels much, much longer than its relatively brief 75-minute run-time.
That’s because 50 minutes of it (maybe more?) are spent with 2 teenagers running through an overgrown hedge-maze. In the dark. With two video cameras. And a lot of screaming for each other.
The tonal similarities mostly end there, as the plot details are quite different. Atrocious plays as literal found-footage: A family is murdered by person(s) unknown, and all that is left are the videos recorded by them. These details are told at the onset, and then the film plays out as we watch the unedited videos. The well-off Quintanilla children (Cristian and July) are bored when their parents decide to stay at their family’s vacation home near Sitges for Easter, so they decide to record one of their “urban legend exploration” podcasts. They had heard a supposed legend about a child who went lost in the creepy maze next to their vacation home in the 1940′s, and the remainder of the film is what happens to them when they begin to look.
Since both children have their own video camera, we get to see them often – not just hear their voices as they call to each other. This makes a difference – and I suspect it’s why the movie has the impact that it does. The viewer gets to know Cristian and July well, and see their strong brother-sister bond. These kids really care about each other, despite their bickering – so when bad things begin to happen, the siblings are desperate to reach each other.
If Atrocious had been made as a short-film, it may have worked better. I very much wanted to fast-forward when the kids were stuck in yet another 15-minute lost-in-the-maze loop, but the dread encouraged me to continue watching. And the film ultimately rewarded me for my patience. If you can force yourself to sit through a laughable number of shots like this…
…you might just be rewarded with an almost accidentally-good motion picture.