“Atrocious” is a found footage horror film from Spain that is written and directed by Fernando Barreda Luna. Stuck at their family’s isolated country house over Easter vacation, two teenage siblings and self-styled paranormal investigators document themselves investigating the local legend of a ghost who appears to people lost in the woods.
Atrocious is writer/director/editor Fernando Barreda Luna’s first feature film, having produced mainly horror short films. In 2014, he served as co-producer and co-editor on the American found footage horror film 21 Days (2014). Spain itself has a proud tradition of found footage film, producing the influential [REC] series.
The film opens with siblings Cristian (Cristian Valencia) and July (Clara Moraleda), who are heading out to the family cottage with their parents and younger brother to spend the weekend. The duo decides to investigate an old local legend they first heard from their father. According to legend, if someone gets lost in the woods just outside the cottage, the ghost of a girl will appear and lead them to safety. Other variations of the tale portray the ghost as evil. What starts as a childish game to pass the time during an otherwise boring weekend quickly grows serious, as sinister events begin to assail the family, culminating in violent tragedy.
Found Footage Cinematography
Atrocious is filmed using two professional-grade handheld video cameras. The cinematography is consistent with that of two teenagers only semi-experienced in handling cameras, never overly smooth or distractingly shaky. In a particularly realistic scene, one of the terrified siblings drops his video camera, picking it up upside down and running with it at his side. The film contains many scenes shot using night-vision, to a degree that may be off-putting to viewers with a low tolerance for the effect. Director of photography, Ferran Casterà Mosquera uses the aesthetic to great effect in creating some striking, unsettling visuals. Ferran Casterà Mosquera also plays a very small role in the film itself. Atrocious is his first feature length film credit.
There are minimal special effects in most of the film. When some practical gore effects do show up though, they are very good. Sadly, no special or visual effects artist is credited.
The filming reason in Atrocious is initially strong: July and Cristian are self-styled paranormal investigators who think they have a case on their hands. More than that, the two siblings are a pair of kids stuck in the country, bored and goofing around. At several points July, who is less serious about their investigations, becomes bored with the enterprise and wants to stop filming; Cristian bullies her into keeping her video camera on.
The film contains several early scenes which strain credibility as to why said scenes are being filmed—not because the characters are in danger, but because the events are so mundane. Two such scenes capture Cristian and July watching a movie or the filming of the two protagonists as they sleep. Despite the questioning nature of these scenes, they are not so implausible as to pull viewers out of the story.
When the action picks up, and the characters are in genuine danger and the justification for filming somewhat weakens. The director cleverly establishes that the characters need night vision as a light source to navigate a garden maze later in the film. This pressing need is underlined by scenes where the video camera switches to daytime mode and almost nothing is visible. However, even when the characters are indoors and have sufficient lighting to see, Cristian continues to film, when he should want to have both hands free to protect himself.
Found Footage Purity
Within the footage itself, Atrocious maintains a true sense of realism. However, there are several title cards which work against the found footage conceit, as they aren’t even implicitly justified by a documentary setup. The film begins with a quote on a black screen, with no attribution, seemingly an invention of the filmmakers. Title cards presenting the day of filming are interspersed throughout, are largely unnecessarily as there is no ticking clock and the story takes place over less than a week. This approach could be interpreted as an example of a found footage film taking inspiration from the genre juggernaut Paranormal Activity (2007), even though the trope might not work in Atrocious.
These date cards are accompanied by bursts of non-specific electronic interference noise, which comes off as odd and out-of-place. After the opening quote, a brief shot from the end of the film is shown before “rewinding” through the movie in its entirety with an inexplicable VHS effect. Although this creative decision does make for an interesting visual and lends tension to the proceeding action, the presence of the approach undeniably works against the purity of the found footage premise.
On the other hand, from an entertainment perspective, Atrocious is refreshing in that the film doesn’t begin with a title card revealing which characters die (usually all of them). This element has become extremely common, verging into cliche in found footage films and often serves to diminish rather than increase tension.
Cristian Valencia (Cristian) and Clara Moraleda (July) are both convincing as a pair of teenage siblings. The two protagonists are occasionally petty and annoying, but believably so and not to an insufferable degree. Valencia and Moraleda sell the relationship between the brother and sister, both in their casual banter and heavier scenes. The sibling relationship forms the emotional core of the film and is one of its strongest traits. The other actors don’t have much screen time or material to work with but do well with what they are given.
Atrocious is available in native Spanish language with English subtitles and an English language dubbed version. The added layer of voice actors in the English dubbed version of Atrocious severely diminishes the acting, emotion, and tension created by the original cast. We strongly encourage fans of the genre to watch the Spanish language version to experience the full impact of Atrocious.
At just seventy-five minutes long, Atrocious does not have much time to work with and, unfortunately, often does not make the best use of it. For most of the runtime, the plot meanders, with no definitive driving narrative force. Only in the third act does a sense of purpose and urgency arise. Possibly the weakest point of Atrocious is the editing, with many scenes which go on far too long. Some judicious editing would have helped with the pacing difficulties, allowing more time for developing a meatier plot.
It must be said that editing a found footage is often tricky. With a traditional narrative film, editors have access to a wide range of editing techniques to maintain pacing and tension. Traditional narrative films have a much lower standard for suspension of disbelief, so the artificiality of these editing techniques is often accepted without question. In found footage, all editing must be justified either by the actions of the characters or what would be a reasonable edit by someone compiling the footage.
Atrocious is a flawed film which is almost entirely redeemed by the third act. The meandering, purposeless plot culminates in a fast-paced, shocking conclusion, finishing off with an excellent twist. The surprise ending isn’t an M. Night Shyamalan style twist in which hints are carefully woven throughout, so an eagle-eyed viewer could potentially see it coming. Yet, the ending is unlikely to come across as a cheat or unfair to viewers. The surprise is satisfying enough on its own; though it could be argued that setting up the twist would have lent more meat and sense of narrative drive to the preceding action. The conclusion is unexpected, unsettling, and offers a compelling reason for viewers to forgive any of the film’s preceding faults.