The Atticus Institute (2015)

In the mid 1970′s, a small psychology lab in Pennsylvania began testing subjects that showed the early signs of psychic abilities. Although initially the results were small, one patient, Judith, began showing unparalleled psychic and telekinetic abilities. As further tests were carried out, it became apparent that this was not a case of a gifted individual, but that of demonic possession. The small lab, ill-equipped to handle the power this woman was demonstrating, called in the military who promptly took over the lab and the experiments, hoping to weaponise the entity. The truth behind these inexplicable events are being made public for the first time in over 40 years.

Faux documentaries are a difficult one to pull out of the bag. Making the unbelievable believable is no mean feat, but in many ways The Atticus Institute gets it spot on. It’s clear to see that director Chris Sparling (ATM, Buried) wants us to get caught up into the believability of it; he ensures this with the use of modern day interviews inter-spliced with archival footage, photographs and audio recordings. Blend this in with seamless performances by the actors, both past and present, and you’ve got a recipe for success.

Where many faux documentaries fall short, is in the casting room. Casting a well known actor immediately dispels the illusion and as a result, the believability. The Atticus Institute successfully breaks this mould though, with a fantastic performance by William Mapother (Lost, The Grudge). Although an actor many will recognise, his immersion into the role, backed up by the ‘modern day’ accounts discussing him, convincingly maintain the illusion of character. Then we have Judith, played wonderfully by Rya Kihlstedt who, without a doubt, steals the show. A truly stellar piece of acting that will have viewers feeling uncomfortable from the second she first appears on screen. So far removed from portrayals we see in other possession films, her mannerisms will have you not only feeling on edge, but also scanning every single inch of the screen.

Although there are parts of the film that are loud, visceral and an assault on the senses, it is in its subtle moments that The Atticus Institute shines. A filing cabinet in the background moves, or a chair ever so slightly tips and none of the characters see or react to it. We are being shown something so minute and subtle, but with enormous implications. It’s almost as if the demon itself is speaking to the audience, giving us a sneak preview of what’s to come, while the blissfully unaware characters go about their business.

The present day interviewees are utterly convincing in their recalling of the events 40 years ago and the casting of the young and old characters is highly convincing. The standout performances being Franklin Dennis Jones and Julian Acosta, both playing Robert Koep, the military ‘suit’ who takes over the operation. The way they speak, their mannerisms, the way they carry themselves are a testament to Sparling’s attention to detail.

Although a stellar piece of cinema, it is not without its shortcomings. The subtleties are where it shines, but in what seems to be an attempt to please wider audiences, it goes a little off kilter and over-the-top at times. Luckily however, this does not detract too much from how well put together it is and it could be argued that it was needed to emphasise the intensity of certain key points.

Being a found-footage faux documentary, The Atticus Institute is not going to please everyone. Nevertheless, it is a shining example that the unbelievable can be made believable, and will have you thinking about it long after the credits have rolled.

Highly recommended.

Side note: If you liked this, definitely check out a Gorepress favourite, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.