Saturday, August 20, 2011
Escape by Sneaking Through the Creepy Gate: Atrocious
It seems like writer/director/editor Fernando Barreda Luna finished cutting together the first hour of Atrocious and then someone kidnapped him and forced him to film a completely unrelated ending. I won’t reveal what happens, but just know that when the credits came up, I was disappointed and confused.
At the beginning of the found footage style film, we meet Cristian and July, brother and sister urban legend investigators who are about to travel with their parents, younger brother Jose, and dog Robin to their beach home in Sitges, Spain. They've heard talk of an urban legend around the house, a tale about a girl named Melinda who got lost in the nearby Garraf woods. If you ever get lost in the woods, Melinda will supposedly show up to help you find your way out. After arriving at the house, the kids discover a locked gate at the edge of the property bordering the woods. Other than that, the house seems normal. When night falls however, the children are kept awake by Robin’s barking.
One morning, Cristian and July slip through the gate to find the Garraf woods stretching out like a labyrinth (think of the maze from The Shining, only it’s constructed from overgrown trees instead of shrubs). Subsequent investigations of the woods reveal all sorts of creepiness, including an altar and a well that reminded me of the one featured in The Ring.
The movie really takes off when Jose goes missing one night and their mother races into the woods to find him. Cristian and July run after her, cameras at the ready.
Truthfully, this scene of searching wildly in the woods was one of the most intense I've ever seen in a horror film. With each wild turn down another row of spooky trees, I expected a ghost or monster or serial killer to be waiting to pounce on the kids. But after the scene’s first five to ten minutes, the tension just started to frustrate me. At one point, Cristian is just literally going in circles and I started to wonder if anything was going to happen. Luna clearly saw The Blair Witch Project and said, "Man, those scenes where they were running through the dark woods were intense. LET’SMAKEOURSTWICEASLONG!"
The real problem with the movie is the story. Like I said, the ending comes completely out of left field and seems like it should have been tacked on to a different film. But there are other aspects that just seemed sloppy. Certain characters disappear not because they get lost or die, it's because the filmmakers just forgot about them.
Another thing that soured me on the film – and this kind of ties in with the out-of-left-field ending – was the fact that it engages in “false foreshadowing.” For example (a bit of a spoiler here), at one point, Cristian pretends that he’s falling in the creepy well to scare July. After the joke is over, he realizes that his sunglasses fell off his head and into the well. He makes such a big deal of this, and it seems like such an obvious setup, that I made a note that the sunglasses would undoubtedly pop up somewhere, implying that someone (maybe Melinda’s ghost?) retrieved them from the well. The sunglasses never show up again.
The well and altar are part of a different problem. Luna must have included certain things in the film just because they were scary, because there’s really no explanation for them. Sure, both items end up playing creepy roles in the film, but we never learn why they’re there in the first place, especially the altar. It was similar to the ghost story. At one point, it’s mentioned that some versions of the urban legend portray Melinda as evil, which contradicts the part of the legend where she HELPS you. It’s like Luna couldn’t decide what he wanted to do here, he just knew ghost stories are scary.
The beginning of the film tells us that "The mind is like a labyrinth in which anyone can get lost.” It seems like that’s what happened with this movie – whatever story Luna was trying to tell got lost somewhere in his mind and it never found its way out. Which is a pity, because there could have been a great horror movie here.