"Atrocious" opens with the following self-made quotation: "The mind is like a labyrinth in which anyone can get lost." As it turns out, writer-director Fernando Berreda Luna is referring to a literal labyrinth, one that lurks behind the property of a long-abandoned country house in Sitges where the Quintanilla family choose to vacation over Easter break. With camcorders in hand and nothing better to do, 18-year-old Cristian (Cristian Valencia) and sister July (Clara Moraleda) explore the maze of hedges, underbrush and crumbling statues. It's daytime, of course, but still more than creepy enough for them; they've heard, after all, the urban legend of a ghost named Melinda who disappeared while staying at the house and is said to still vengefully lurk in the woods after dark. Cristian and July return to the labyrinth twice more under increasingly ominous circumstances, the last time in the dead of night to follow mother Debora (Chus Pereiro) when 8-year-old kid brother Jose (Sergi Martin) goes missing. By morning's light, there will be few survivors among them.
The nightmare that befalls the Quintanilla clan in Spanish-made horror movie "Atrocious" is positioned as found footage under investigation by the National Police Department. Full of shaky camerawork and first-person POVs, the film is but the latest answer to 1999's "The Blair Witch Project
." It's a subgenre that works well when done correctlywhen, for example, the acting is natural enough to equate authenticity and there is no added artifice, like a needless music score (we're looking at you, 2007's "Diary of the Dead
")and one that lends a jittery, "you-are-there" sense of anything-goes cinéma vérité
unpredictability to the proceedings. Here, the narrative also serves as a captivating mystery. Is the danger that edges closer to Cristian and his family supernatural in nature, or all too real?
Better in its setup than in its payofftruth be told, the most startling moment is unintentional, the subtle movement of a darkly obscured background object hanging from the ceiling downright chilling"Atrocious" is effective in the lingering threat that something scary is about to pop out at any given moment. The story has some holes once its details are revealed, and the reason why no one calls for help on their cell phones when things grow obviously dire is a frustrating oversight. It is obvious, too, that the picture's creation grew from writer-director Fernando Berreda Luna's access to a really great, spooky, secluded location rather than the other way around. All the same, it is
a great, spooky, secluded locationone that viewers will not soon forget. "Atrocious" is far from tops in the annals of "found-footage" thrillers, but it does know how to wrestle with expectations and ratchet suspense when it gets down to it.