The Dispatches Review – Found Footage Series – Atrocious (2010) – Part 4 of 4

But let’s cut (back) to the chase–or, back to the cuts in the chase.  For, the running scenes are noticeably cut–and not just to speed up the pace, but to amp up the tension.  We simply don’t have to follow this scene for all of the several minutes it goes on, and, yet, we can see even now that it’s cut down from its full length.

Meanwhile, though, in my confusion, it is here, in the woods, that I have come to understand that not only do I not know who I am in respect to this story, but that I don’t even know what type of story it is.  Jose is dead.  July is tied up in the woods, needing desperately to be rescued.  But is she needing to be rescued from a what or a whom?  Later, at around an hour, Cristian has hidden himself away in the upstairs bedroom, a chair propped against the door.  We get more static, then a still image of the chair a few feet removed from the door, the door open perhaps half a foot: this might be the figurative center of the film’s ambiguity.  It is my first time viewing this film and now I’m asking these questions outright, talking at my television: What’s going on here?  What does this particular set of frozen frames mean?  Who or what has moved the chair away from the door?

If I’m about to get a call telling me I’m gonna die in seven days, I’m gonna be PISSED...

If I’m about to get a call telling me I’m gonna die in seven days, I’m gonna be PISSED…

At the climax, as Cristian enters the cellar for the last time, as he quite literally descends to his fate, a fuzz-laden television in the corner provides snippets of a videotaped medical record, information about an unnamed subject’s psychological problems; odd that it comes so soon after that mysterious bit with the chair and the door, though.  For, we’re not given enough to know who the antagonist is, but we can at least firmly guess now that they’re human.  And, if this is a physical, material antagonist, do they have any actual relationships with other physical, material identities in this world that would explain the form of the footage?  If so, are we meant to be playing that person, or anyone else who might have the chance to view this footage as we’re viewing it now?

But, rather than addressing such questions right off, this is where the stylization that had been mostly restricted to the intertitles is unleashed on the plot in a much more overt way.  Of course, Cristian is not alone in the basement (as no one in a horror movie is ever alone in a basement), but, just before the confrontation, the footage fast forwards; remember that, as the opening established, we’re not meant to believe we’re fully in control of our own viewing of the thing, so this is not in itself inconsistent with what has been presented so far.  We speed past the climax too quickly to know what happens and then land on a new intertitle: ‘PHOTO EVIDENCE EXHIBITS TAKEN BY POLICE IN SITGES’, the town in which the film is set. There are still about 8 minutes (including the credits) left in the film, though, and that’s a lot of time for matters to get even more complicated.

The slides provide dates and places that help fix our understanding of the flow of events, but which confuse more than they clarify, otherwise; they look as though they’re being fed through an old-school slide-projector despite the fact that the film was clearly shot in the past few years, long after we might reasonably expect such technology to have been abandoned by even the most rural of police forces.  In fact, the technology is anachronistic even with respect to itself, considering how seamlessly the slides are transposed into the film; it’s clearly not as though someone stood there with a camera as the slides were run through, so how does the appearance of such media indicate anything other than a violation of legitimacy?  Meanwhile, in the background, we’re hearing the call that Carlos, the family friend, makes to emergency services after finding the bodies.  This might be valuable information, which is exactly why its placement in the background of these slides seems counter to our own, realistic standards of investigation and report.  But, given all the other conceits necessary to good or even clear filmmaking, it’s important to repeat that this is not all to point up flaws in the logic of the narrative, but to identify how that narrative world itself is shaped to complicate the progress of the protagonists.

And that progress can be summed up as ‘well and truly fucked’.  No doubt about it.

And that progress can be summed up as ‘well and truly fucked’.  No doubt about it.

We make our way through the initial bulk of the found footage, then the police evidence, then a news story about the events, before returning to the found footage itself where we left off: at the climax in the basement.  But that weird disruption has still happened, and even the snapping-back, that narration-bending, is reminiscent of other novel forms, such as Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997, 2007); both in Haneke’s story and here, we are subject to the influence of a have a character who is somehow aware of the status of the film-as-film and is thus empowered to disrupt its progression, our viewing, from within.

Hanekebakes

Meanwhile, let’s not forget that thick layer of complicity-guilt.  Like Haneke says: If you don’t have anxiety and self-doubt, you don’t have dessert!

In Funny Games, though, such questions are raised at the specific, intentional expense of the realism and internal consistency of the narrative.  In Atrocious, perhaps because of the found footage form, that’s not so categorically the case; it might take some explaining to figure how this footage got shaped the way it did and then delivered to the narrative-level viewer, but we don’t have to necessarily change the laws of physics to accommodate the plot or chain of delivery.

I continually have the urge to define found footage horror by its literal label: something found.  But, popularly speaking, we tend to put things into the found footage category that don’t so cleanly fit even into the definitions we commonly agree upon.  Other’s opinions tend to be more liberal than my own, but this only indicates that filmmakers are now feeling freer to mess with expectations of the genre.  Which, you know, is cool.  Many take greater liberties with the form than, say, Blair Witch did when it presented just the footage–processed, for sure, but not added to.  Faux documentary and fake news broadcasts, meanwhile, show that the boundaries of the genre are expanding and intermixing with other means of delivering reality-transgressing narratives.  There are many, anymore, that seem like full-fledged found footage for much of their run–that are being labeled ‘found footage’ in our discourse and even in their categorization in sources we consider authoritative, like the IMDb and Netflix.  And each type moves in directions that contribute to their own unique, respective sets of problems as go the chain of delivery, the identity of the compiler, and any number of other conventions.

This all certainly goes for Atrocious.  Throughout the majority of the film–even given the complications of the stylized title cards, ambient music, and other artifacts of popular-vs-[legitimate? real? archival?] production–I am still choosing to call this a verifiable example of found footage in its form: no matter how any factors might pull me out of the fictional realm, how a particular detail might ring false as I try to maintain my suspension of disbelief, the thing still seems intended to be taken as an artifact of a shared world, delivered to a viewer through means that are somehow, explicably consistent with that realm’s possibilities.  The events of the narrative happened in the world I am currently inhabiting, or so I tell myself, and that is, among other things, the same thing that the film itself is meant to convince me of.  This is the logical implication of labeling a film ‘found footage’–the prospect one undertakes when one decides to make such a film, in fact–but it also raises the stakes: there are ways that a ‘found footage’ film can undo its status as ‘fully’ or ‘really’ found footage, even (read: especially) late in the game.

Not to give anything away, but it is sensible to assume that whoever is killing off the members of this family, besides being resolutely human, is unhinged, and the reveal bears this out.  But Atrocious provides us with something deeper than a plot twist: within this tangle of cameras and sources and potentialities there lies a structural complication that we’ve already started questioning but haven’t yet resolved.  The identity of the killer is made clear in the last few moments of found footage tacked on at the end, thereby obviating most of the questions still clearly at issue in the police evidence placed just a few minutes earlier.  But, if the footage itself makes the identity of the killer clear and, we can assume, the police found this same footage on the scene, isn’t the compilation–the found footage conspicuously placed along with the evidence and story–unnecessary to an investigation the footage wraps up all by itself?

But if, as in some other examples of found footage we’ll see, we’re meant to believe that the compiler is someone else–perhaps someone closer to the killer–we’re becoming only that much more compelled to wonder who.  Nor is this a question whose answer is made evident in the footage itself or via the chain of delivery; for, who in this instance, among those who are left standing after the massacre, would be moved to produce such a thing according to its particular, peculiar construction?  The initial suggestion that this is all police evidence is effectively blown apart, so who else would have the means and motive to develop the footage into what we see?  Even if we could come to some reasonable answer as to the compiler’s identity, doesn’t this footage, as it stands here, seem more like something to be found at the back of someone’s closet–evidence of a fetish, perhaps, that one wouldn’t be so eager to distribute to the public, rather than something openly passed around?  Intentionally or not, just by cutting back to the basement at the end with no evident, contextual reasoning, the film threatens to displace us as members of the narrative realm and re-establish us firmly back in our real-world place as viewers of a produced, fictional narrative.  It then takes it a step further by cutting, in a super-stylized way, from the camera’s view of the basement to the psychological assessment that, to that point, was showing on the television in the basement, thereby extending and cementing our remove and, perhaps, even compromising the movie’s narrative position as possibly being found footage ‘to begin with’.

Come back soon for our next entry in the Dispatches Review Found Footage Series!!!

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