Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In short: Atrocious (2010)

It takes a certain type of filmmaker to call his movie "Atrocious", for there's more than just a small risk of lazy or dissatisfied reviewers using exactly this word to describe it if they don't like it. In the case of Fernando Barreda Luna's Atrocious, it's also a rather unfitting title. On the other hand, who would call his movie more honestly yet certainly less excitingly "Quite Effective" or "Pretty Good"?

Plotwise, this Spanish/Mexican co-production concerns a family going on holiday in the mother's country family mansion. Right next to it, and locked off by a gate, is a labyrinth of wood paths. There's a ghost story about the woods in the area too. A ghostly girl named Melinda is supposed to haunt them, either - depending on the variation of the story - leading people traversing the woods at night astray or showing them the way.

The family's teenage children, Cristian (Cristian Valencia) and July (Clara Moraleda), are fascinated by ghost stories, so it's not much of a surprise when they disregard parental warnings and spend a day exploring the labyrinth with their trusty cameras, whose footage is of course the basis of the film. As one might expect, terrible things will soon enough start happening, and our protagonists will have good reason to make the mistake of visiting the labyrinth by night.

Surprisingly enough, Atrocious isn't completely going where you'd expect it to after a very Blair Witch-ish beginning. The film isn't exactly pioneering new ground for the POV style horror movie, but it's far from being one of those films of the sub-genre whose only ambition is to copy the films that came before it, but worse. Right now, POV horror can be easily divided into two groups: the films that want to be Blair Witch and those that want to be (Cthulhu protect!) Paranormal Activity, with the few films that want to be neither (because hey, they already exist) usually the ones worth watching. Atrocious has one foot in the territory of the first group of films, and one in the third, and it's exactly that point where one of its strengths lies. I've been so inundated by films without any ambitions of their own that something like Luna's film that uses the semblance of a Blair-Witch-alike to make its own simple story more effective works by virtue of not ending exactly like I expected or feared.

What sounds quite a bit like me damning it with faint praise isn't the film's only strength, though. Luna also shows a good hand for pacing, knows when and how to escalate the plot, how to keep things pleasantly, sometimes even suspensefully, tight, and even finds space to have a rather timeless big fear lurking in the thematic background. It's more than enough to make for a clever, entertaining little movie.

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