It's either brave or foolhardy (delete as appropriate according to opinion) to call your movie Atrocious, and the film company's cognisance of that risky decision is demonstrated as the DVD menu opens, with the dictionary definition of the word displayed for the viewers' benefit. As this is a Spanish production, it's conceivable that the usage of the word differs between the English and Spanish language, but whichever way, it feeds critics an obvious line with which to berate the handheld shocker, should that be their whim.
As it happens, Fernando Barreda Luna's little slice of Catalan horror isn't atrocious at all - far from it - but it does suffer from a number of failings which dilute its potential impact and prevent it from making a serious dent in the surprisingly enduring 'found footage' category. On the one hand, it's easy to see why such movies continue to proliferate with almost renewed velocity; the overheads are low, the format is proven, and, when executed properly, the net result is truly chilling. The problem is that the format of the genre constrains as much as it liberates, and whilst adopting the tools and techniques which have been tried and tested in earlier output is a sensible decision for any filmmaker, crafting a distinctly unique entry should be high on the list of requirements.
To state that Atrocious is not distinctly unique would be unfair, as the eventual underpinning story is suitably distinct from most other entries to this genre. Yet the delivery recalls some core milestones in the evolution of found footage movie history. Much of the action, for instance, revolves around a forest, a forest where one easily becomes lost and can wander in various directions without finding an immediate way out. Sound familiar? And the dilapidated old country house setting, complete with rooms/floors to which access is forbidden to the temporary guests, is somewhat reminiscent of Uruguay's recent offering, The Silent House - as is, to an extent, the plot, although it's debatable whether such a recent film could have influenced the movie we're analysing here.
Additionally, the frequent namechecks to what appear to be the filmmakers' influences and objects of affection prove rather distracting, whether it's the whistling of a Nirvana tune, the visual and verbal nods to Tarantino, the inclusion of a copy of Argento's classic L'uccello Dalle Piume di Cristallo, or the reenactment of a classic De Niro moment from Taxi Driver. OK, so it's quite conceivable that such characters would be whistling Nirvana tunes or reenacting Travis Bickle in the mirror, but it all feels rather contrived and removes some of the authenticity, an authenticity which should be the key ingredient of films relying upon this model.
Atrocious scores points because despite its somewhat derivative nature and plot irritations, it still manages to rattle the nerves and unsettle the senses. The sedate and measured build pays further dividends - although the overall pacing is a little clumsy - and the extended scene in the forest is fairly agonising to watch, largely because for a long time, nothing is happening, and yet your nerves remain painfully alert.
If your primary objective from this viewing experience is to be chilled and rattled in fairly slick fashion (the rewind of the footage at the opening is a clever technique, for instance), then you'll be more than satisfied with the tense and grim delights which the sensibly efficient 71 minute Atrocious delivers. If you're after a distinctly different and refreshing entry (and there have been excellent examples over the last couple of years) with an unshakeable foundation of authenticity, then you'll probably be disappointed by Fernando Barreda Luna's solidly modest film.
Atrocious makes a bloody entry to the UK DVD market on a region 2 encoded disc courtesy of Revolver Entertainment, and they've done a decent enough job of the transfer. Ignoring the obvious introduction of heightened grain and reduced definition due to the amateur handheld camera nature of this story, the transfer is clean and clear, where colours - which are inevitably a little muted - are reproduced well. The 1.78:1 presented picture bears up well throughout the extended nighttime forest scenes, despite your desire to not see whatever horrors you might be about to stumble upon. The only unintended degradation I noticed was towards the close of Atrocious, where a small amount of chunky pixelation appeared to interrupt the image. This was extremely fleeting, and could, of course, be related to the fact I've been watching a review copy.
The included English subtitles (which, frustratingly, you can't toggle on and off) are clear and unobtrusive, with no grammatical errors that I could detect.
As a final note, Atrocious was released at cinemas on the 16th September 2011, hits DVD on the 19th of the same month, before moving to download on the 3rd of October 2011.
Audio is available in either Spanish 5.1 surround sound, or 2.0 stereo, and is perfectly acceptable. The sound quality is clear and distinct, with no evidence of distortion or hiss, although you should bear in mind that since this is a handheld footage movie, the sound quality is inevitably going to be somewhat lo-fi. Whichever way, dialogue is always clear, and the thumps and bumps that are designed to unsettle do the job with appropriate effectiveness.
There's a single Making of extra on the disk, running for 14 minutes. It's a satisfactorily watchable piece, featuring interviews with the director and cast, and revealing some of the action from behind the scenes.
It's a shame to report there are no other extras here, not even a trailer.
If being scared senseless is higher on your list than being sparkled by new ideas, then the well executed Atrocious will fit the bill just fine. Just beware that, as ever, Hollywood lurkers are lurking, and rumour has it that this will be the latest piece to end up sanitised and remoulded for a new target audience. Whatever this film's shortcomings may be, the original article deserves your viewing before that happens.