Atrocious (2011)

There’s always an element of risk when naming a film – look at Paycheck for an example of a reviewer-baiting title choice. Atrocious is another example of that, but I’m pleased to say Atrocious is not atrocious. It should’ve really been called Mediocre instead.

Urban legend hunting siblings Christian (Cristian Valencia) and July (Clara Moraleda) are packed off on holiday to their old farm house in Sitges. Bored and frustrated, they check out local myths and discover the legend of “The Girl in the Garraf woods”. Apparently this red dress-wearing ghost aids lost travellers, although some say you should never turn your back on her because – presumably – she’s also a psycho bitch.

Deciding to pursue this legend as their next project, the duo wander into the labyrinthine hedge-maze that borders their property, where they get lost, see a figure in the woods and find a creepy old well. This bumbling-around continues for a long time and then – suddenly – their little brother goes missing in the middle of the night! Their mother runs, screaming into the maze and Christian and July are forced to follow. What’s in there? Where is their brother? Who cares?

Atrocious is unfortunately generic. It begins with a build up of character, a story, a potential threat, and then it begins to roll towards the inevitable shaky-cam sprinting through woods, weird figures in the dark, noises, blood, screaming and death. It is very effective and scary in places, and genuinely creepy, but it’s so mediocre in its execution it comes across as lazy rather than inventive.

The major issues with Atrocious come from this lack of originality; we have a creepy old house with a scary basement, we have a massive maze, we have a well in the woods that looks like Sadako might live there and we have two people with two cameras who are rubbish at operating them properly. There is a spark of originality at the end, but it’s so baffling and so last-minute that is cannot possibly make up for the preceding  70 minutes of expectedness.

This is such a shame because at the centre of Atrocious is an exciting and dynamic sibling relationship; Cristian Valencia and Clara Moraleda portray the Quintanilla children realistically and amiably so it’s unfortunate they never get to develop their characters beyond the friendly banter as – when the craziness begins – it’s all about splitting up and screaming a lot. Oddly, all the other peripheral characters almost have no character at all; their little brother is just a bit annoying, their dad mostly absent and their mum a little aloof. It makes it very hard to care about anyone but the two leads, which is ridiculous when you consider the story as a whole.

Ultimately Atrocious is a short film stretched to its limit. I have seen this in SO many found footage films, and it’s needlessly extended by adding something completely unacceptable in film: boredom. Atrocious sags significantly in the middle, when the siblings wander around the maze in broad daylight. It’s incredibly dull and long and a scene that sinks the movie entirely. Undoubtedly writer / director Fernando Barreda Luna will say “it’s found footage” and they can’t control what we see, but then according to IMDB the police found 37 hours of footage. Maybe an extended “insomnia-curing” edition is to follow then?

Overall Atrocious is not atrocious. It is not genius either, nor original or smart or inspiring. It is distinctly mediocre with an unflagged twist and two great central performances from Cristian Valencia and Clara Moraleda. This could have been awesome, but it’s not. Atrocious is simply “okay”.

Rating: ★★★★½☆☆☆☆☆

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