Monday, August 4, 2014

Found Shakeage

Break out your twig effigies and toss that map in the river! We’ve got some Blair Witchin’ en la casa.

Quick Plot: Teen siblings Christian and July Quintanilla like to film themselves investigating paranormal urban legends. This makes their Easter vacation to a secluded country home with their parents, little brother Jose, and lovable pit bull mix the ideal trip for their next installment since the surrounding land includes a maze supposedly haunted by a young spirit named Melinda. 

Naturally, Christian and July do as you do and embark on their cinematic mission to rouse Melinda and capture it on film. When their dog shows up mutilated at the bottom of a well and Jose goes missing, the Quintanillas must face some mysterious force armed only with night vision shaky cam.

Written and directed by Fernando Barreda Luna, 2010’s Atrocious is pretty much a typical found footage entry into the post-Paranormal Activity found footage boom. You get your 50 minutes or so of slightly ominous buildup followed by a chaotic, barely lit climax where all hell breaks loose and we’re left wondering why, when fleeing from a force of true evil, one never thinks to drop the added weight of a video camera.

I’ve come around on my stance on found footage filmmaking with a heavy dose of humility. Where at one point I found the very alliterative words frustrating, I now look at some of this recent generation’s strong output--Megan Is Missing, Skew, Grave Encounters to name a few--and realize that when done right, it’s simply another tool to tell a more immediate story.

The flip side is that when done poorly, the film is generally unwatchable.

Despite its easily usable title, Atrocious is not atrocious. It’s also not great, at least in my estimation. While I’m usually thankful for short running times, Atrocious actually needed more. The final chase is fairly effective, but the ultimate reveal (which I won’t spoil) comes, at least upon first viewing, out of nowhere. Considering the weight of said unrevealed reveal, there’s really no reason why the film’s first act couldn’t have set it up better.

High Points
In a world filled with obnoxious twentysomethings or bratty teens, it’s nice to have two adolescent lead characters who for the most part, seem like perfectly pleasant kids who get along well

Low Points
I understand the style of found footage and the rules it forces upon your camerawork. It probably SHOULD be shaky if your characters/directors of photography. And yet, your characters who are holding FLASHLIGHTS probably should just drop said cameras to better maximize their ‘running from something terrible’ skills. 

My point is, if you insist on being a slave to your format, make sure it makes sense within the scene. PARTICULARLY when the flip side is that it subjects your audience to the effects of motion sickness

Lessons Learned
Wide lens flashlights are great, but apparently, night vision on your 20 pound videocamera held is far superior

If you queue up Atrocious in a dark room and eliminate interruptions for 80 minutes, it may prove to be effective for some viewers. I could appreciate it after the fact, but while watching, I just found myself longing to see the same story told with professional camerawork. 


  1. I haven't seen this, but I gotta think I'd be real careful about naming my movie something that can SO easily be worked into the title of a bad review...

    1. Right? Isn't that the first rule of titling a film? Like when you have a child, you try rhyming every possible word with potential name choices to make sure there's no easy insult schoolyard bullies can use?