Slamdance 2011: An 'Atrocious' Interview with Fernando Barreda Luna


Screening this past weekend at Slamdance (the troublemaking little sibling of the Sundance Film Festival) was Atrocious, the fest's lone horror feature. In Atrocious, a family is found slaughtered in an isolated country home. The film is made up of footage shot by the eldest child, Christian, and his sister July, who make a hobby out of exploring urban legends. We chat with director Fernando Barreda Luna about the legend that inspired the flick.

Is this story based on a real urban legend or story?  If not, where did the idea come from?
I'm from Mexico, where you can find a lot of legends and horror stories, so when the possibility came up to shoot the film in Spain, I ended up mixing legends from both countries. I added more details to expand the mythology, but the fun part is when I arrived in Sitges (a small town close to Barcelona where the Sitges Film Festival is held), I found out that there was a similar story around there about a girl who appears at night in the famous Garraf County curves.

The website goes into far more detail than the film does about the legend of Melinda. Does this mean you are planning a sequel?
Yeah, I wanted to make the legend some of the appeal of the film, and try to suggest that [the murders] could be something paranormal so the audience can be open minded to everything that happens. As the story has so many things to tell we have plenty of material to do a prequel, but only once you see the film can you figure out where it can expanded upon.

You have mentioned that during post production on this film, you "felt a presence."  Can you expand on that?  Any other creepy experiences while filming?
I have felt strange presences since 10 years ago, and it began when I went exploring in a natural reserve in Tamaulipas called "el Cielo" (the heaven). That is where I first learned about the legend of the girl who will tell you the way out of the woods. I remember that night I felt a strange presence around us. Later our friends and I were stalked by a tiger. We were already inside the tents and the dogs were barking for like half of a hour. The following day one of the dogs had disappeared and we found a dead horse attacked by a big animal. Since that day, sometimes I feel that strange presence around me: when I walk at night, when we shot at night, at the theatre the night of the premiere in Sitges Film Festival.

Your young actors do a great job.  How did you find them? 
I wanted local unknown actors who could be very spontaneous in stressful moments, but also in quiet and boring moments. We chose the actors from individual casting sessions, without knowing if they were going to have good chemistry. Luckily they did. We made them live together in a house during the preproduction and the shooting, so they created a relationship that is reflected in the film. They accepted the work even knowing nothing about the script. In fact, every actor had a different version of the script. They all knew different things about the story, but nobody knew how it ended; only the crew had the full script.

What made you decide to tell the story from the point of view of kids, as opposed to adults?
Kids can be so immature and irresponsible, that they don't care about the danger. And if they are in trouble, they believe they are brave enough to face it. Also, teenagers of these days use YouTube to communicate with other people, to show their art or opinions, and meet friends. There are some who make a career hoping to be discovered. So this is a story about this kind of kid trying to [gain notoriety] and be popular on this network.

Why did you decide to make this a "found footage" film?
This kind of film must be named First Person Experience. We did it this way because you can put the audience in the shoes of the character. You can really feel that you are handling the camera, and people want to feel they are part of the movie. This is nothing new, and its nothing to do with money. Cloverfield cost more than $25 million, and it's the same shooting style. With videogames, the most successful games are first person, like Call of Duty or Gran Turismo. From the first person point of view, it's very interesting, exploring the fears of people and getting them to a stage where they don't feel secure.

Is the "found footage" film easier or more difficult to direct?  Did your actors actually carry the cameras themselves?
I think the difficulty is more related with what and how you are filming, rather than the camera point of view. I mean, if you need to shoot on a freezing night, with kids running and screaming like hell in the woods carrying the cameras, and the sound recording machine begins to burn - if you don't have money to come back another night so you must finish all the sequences in that moment, surely you would prefer to be in a set doing something else, and in that moment it doesn't matter if it's a found footage style or not. I believe making movies is not about how difficult is to make them, it's about doing what you want to do for the story and what the story needs. It's always good to have difficulties, because that pushes you to be better and smarter. And yes, the actors carry the cameras almost the whole shoot. This shows how amazing they are, because they needed to be worried not only about their acting, but shooting, and camera movements too. I think they are very versatile and did a very good job.