FrightFest 2011 Review: ATROCIOUS

Fans of low-budget indie horror might be able to forgive it, but for the rest of us it frustratingly squanders some eerie promise.

rating: 2.5

If one of Frightfest's strongest entries so far, The Troll Hunter, represents a fresh take on the found footage film, then Atrocious is its antithesis; an altogether more familiar, by-the-book effort which generates a few palpable thrills yet ultimately outstays its welcome, even at a meagre 75 minutes. Fans of low-budget indie horror might be able to forgive it, but for the rest of us it frustratingly squanders some eerie promise. Christian (Cristian Valencia) and his sister July are obsessed with urban legends, visiting hotspots, recording any findings and then sharing them online. Their latest excursion is curtailed, however, when their parents whisk them away to a remote holiday home in Sitges. Fortune arises, though, once they learn of a local legend called The Girl in the Garraf Woods, and it's not long before they sneak away to investigate said wood, located just behind their house. Atrocious begins with a discordant opening minute which is admittedly creepy as Hell; it's an obscure flash through the film's recorded footage and provides a taster of what is to come. Only too apt is it therefore that the film itself, even at 75 minutes, is in need of heavy editorialisation to be the tight, tense film it clearly wants to be. As such, there's the distinct feeling this would be much more effective as a short, given director Fernando Barreda Luna's indifference to pacing and plotting. On the plus side, it at least takes no more than three minutes to establish its concept, though disappointingly makes the audience wait a further half-hour before even a whiff of creepiness wades in. From here, it goes the prescribed Paranormal Activity route of dividing the terror into days, which means there's plenty of sedate downtime, a move not too advisable for a film this short, for it stifles the momentum during the early stages. The ultra-low budget is also extremely apparent from start to finish; the filmmakers likely borrowed the house off of a friend or family member of one of the crew, along with the camera equipment, but they do at least deserve some credit for generating several scenes of palpable suspense during the beaming light of the Spanish daytime. It's a very difficult, brave effort, and they rise to the challenge when putting the boring asides down. Various strands charged with keeping things going, however, borrow liberally from the Blair Witch playbook without offering any of their own spin or personality; a lengthy scene in which the kids become lost in a maze-like garden feels like a distended version of just about every desperate scramble in night-vision we've seen over the years, and the film resultantly becomes fairly tiresome and monotonous by the half-way point. In the final reel, however, things do eventually come together; there's plenty of scan-around-the-screen suspense, though the grainy night-vision blur of endless trees is so incredibly overdone here. For the climax, it does at least raise the pulse even if you'll have to sit through a rather bland 45 minutes to get to it. For added chills, don't bother reading a synopsis as it will in most cases needlessly give away the end (though probably not the almost good if underdeveloped final twist). Atrocious does not yet have a U.K. or U.S. release date set.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.