Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fernando Barreda Luna's ATROCIOUS does the hand-held, scares-in-the-woods thing

It takes some kind of courage to call your film ATROCIOUS. (Was "Wretched" already taken? What about "Abysmal"? Well, maybe the producer was trying to cash in on the more recently successful Insidious?) TrustMovies, in any case, is not calling this tiny scare flick atrocious. For what it is -- a cheap-jack, Spanish rip-off of everything from Blair Bitch to Paranormal Quactivity -- the movie improves slightly on both of those oversold and tiresomely dismal predecessors. And at 73 minutes, it doesn't wear out its welcome (well, not by too much). Part of the ongoing AMC/Bloody Disgusting/The Collective "Night Terrors" series, the film will be opening nationwide this next Wednesday, August 17 (To find a theater near you, click here, and then click on the drop down menu next to the film's poster).

The first full-length film from writer/director Fernando Barreda Luna, shown at left, this hand-held creep-fest offers a number of surprisingly unsettling moments -- along with its plethora of settling ones: the camera tracking oodles of shrubbery, forest trails, and pathways full of twigs, branches and leaves. Just when you're ready to scream, "Get an f-ing story going, please!" something different and scary pulls you back in. Barreda tells the tale of a happy (well, we think they're happy) family vacationing in an old estate in the sticks: Dad (a bit distant and absentee), Mom (clearly problemed, played by Chus Pereiro, two photos below), older bro (a camera nut, shown below, played by Cristian Valencia), sis (an incipient "looker") little bro (a cutey-pie) and, of course, the darling family dog.

The filmmaker manages to make his beginning segments, if a tad too hand-held and jerky, at least fun and interesting, with the entire cast colluding to make it seem like they're a group that's really known each other for more than a minute. When the scares begin (very soon, since the film runs but little over one hour), we're primed to like the kids and don't want to see them hurt. Good luck.

There's some gore here (below), but it's nothing compared to most of what we see these days.  Things are as often suggested as stuffed in your face, and the movie builds a nice head of "creep" as it moves along. And as there's not that much dialog, the Spanish subtitles shouldn't prove too trying.

Also to its credit, Atrocious doesn't leave literally everything up in the air. In fact, it may err slightly in the other direction of the too-neat-and-too-fully-explained ending of the original Psycho. But at least Barreda does all this with fast cuts and only just enough explanation to properly fill in the blanks.

Performances are fine, as far as they are allowed to go; the setting, with its wonderful old house, is striking; and technical details are all on the cheap (but effective) side. To paraphrase old Robert Frost, "These woods are lovely, dark and deep, but someone here has promises to keep." And she ain't being very nice about it....

No comments: