So here we are back in "found footage" territory: a low-budget (in this case imported) little horror flick that's presented as "real" footage of something horrible -- with, of course, a good deal of character development and set-up, because let's face it: most horror movies have to take this route because it's tough to scare someone for 90 minutes straight. Plus you have to do a little extra "wheel-spinning" on movies of this sort; just take a look at The Last Exorcism, both of the Paranormal Activity flicks, and (of course, the grand-daddy of the entire sub-genre) The Blair Witch Project. But with so many years gone by, and with so many flicks like [REC], its sequel, its remake, and a dozen other "handheld horror" flicks, it seems we're done focusing on the gimmick itself and allowing it to become just another way to tell a spooky story. Last year's Lake Mungo showed that to be the case, as does the upcoming Undocumented, as well as the recent Slamdance offering known as Atrocious.
On (virtual) paper, there's nothing here that's all that unique: a restless pair of teenage siblings (Cristian and July) are joining their mom, dad and little brother on a holiday at the family's forgotten old country house. The kids have no real interest in the trip, so they decide to bring a pair of video cameras along and do some research on a creepy old urban legend about the spirit of a long-forgotten little girl. Mom, Dad, and little Jose have their own activities to keep them busy, so Cristian and July decide to explore the wonderfully creepy -- but horribly dilapidated -- hedge maze that lies beyond a rusty gate in their back yard. Mom and Dad are evasive, the family dog is curious, and Cristian is intent on delving deep into the hedgerow labyrinth.
Yeah, this old vacation home has a gigantic hedge maze in its yard ... that's tucked behind a chained gate. The house also has a locked basement from which eerie sounds sometimes flow, so clearly you know these kids are about to snoop around where they shouldn't be snooping. Fortunately for all involved, Atrocious (which is a pretty weak title for a variety of reasons) runs only about 80 minutes, the two young leads are quite a bit more interesting than many of their ilk, and first-time writer/director Fernando Barreda Luna has a good sense of when things are getting a little slow. Indeed the final 30-some minutes of the flick are pretty appreciably creepy. And bonus points to Luna for bringing a welcome sense of vague menace and enjoyable ambiguity to his scary story.
So while Atrocious brings very little that's new to the still-robust "found footage horror flick" sub-genre, there's always something to be said for a quick, quiet, creepy low-budget import that knows it cannot re-invent the wheel, so it just tries to craft a quality one.