Do you like ghost stories? Cristian and July do. They have a YouTube channel devoted to urban legends and go nowhere without their cameras. This includes the old family farmhouse near Sitges where their parents plan to spend the summer. It's a beautiful building set in gorgeous countryside, with extensive grounds - just the kind of remote spot where teenagers really resent being confined - but at least it has an overgrown labyrinth attached, so there's somewhere to explore. There's also a local ghost story about a girl who got lost, who shows travellers the way.

The kids' father doesn't want them to go into the labyrinth. He says their mother knew it well as a child, but neither will say more. Of course, they go anyway. Perhaps this is what precipitates the horror that follows; perhaps they were always doomed.

Copy picture

Yet another entry in the found footage genre, Atrocious is filmed almost entirely by its stars, giving us what almost amounts to a new form of acting as Luna's flexible script and improvisational approach make us privy to their point of view in character. Valencia and Moraleda are ideal for the central roles, both very natural actors with great chemistry. Their banter, bickering and fooling around in brightly lit early scenes quickly brings us close to them. This believability is important because in other ways the format is rather less convincing. Lots of quick cutting and jumping between viewpoints where little is revealed does not seem in keeping with the type of documentary they've set out to make, even if Cristian does fancy himself as the new Tarantino. As we zip backward and forward in time toward the end, we seem to be watching a police edit of the footage, but why would that be approached in such an obscure fashion? The suggestion that the police would give footage of real crimes to a horror film director to work with is too ludicrous to take seriously.

What it lacks in structural coherence, Atrocious makes up for in atmosphere. By keeping the real ending a secret from the actors until the last minute, and changing the way some scenes were shot part-way through, Luna has kept everyone on their toes. The shift from those bright daylight scenes into the isolation of night is striking, and the intimate nature of handheld camera shots persistently creates the sensation that there is something terrible just out of shot. It's a simple but highly effective technique for inducing fear, and here it serves a double purpose by keeping viewers concentrating on surface details whilst darker Jungian horrors lurk beneath.

Unfortunately, Atrocious really falls down when it comes to pacing - the flight through the labyrinth in the second half goes on far too long - and it also makes an error common to debut features in trying to pack in too many poorly-formed ideas. Some film references ease into the script very naturally but toward the end we get a slew of horror cliches that have little if anything to contribute to the story, and July's inability to communicate what she has seen stretches credulity.

There's the kernel of a really strong horror film here, and Luna certainly has talent, though perhaps more as a director than as a scriptwriter. For all its unevenness, many genre fans will find this appealing, and it's a great calling card - let's hope there's more, better work to come from this talented team.

Reviewed on: 18 Oct 2011
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Atrocious packshot
"Found footage" horror seeking the truth behind the murders of a family at an isolated house in the woods.
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Director: Fernando Barreda Luna

Writer: Fernando Barreda Luna

Starring: Rafael Amaya, Jose Masegosa, Chus Pereiro, Cristian Valencia

Year: 2010

Runtime: 75 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Spain, Mexico

Festivals:

Frightfest 2011

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