Sunday, January 15, 2017

Review: Atroz

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Atroz (aka Atrocity)
Written and directed by Lex Ortega
Cineauta / Grotesque / Unearthed Films / MVD Visual
79 minutes, 2015 / 2016

Torture porn, or whatever you would like to call it, is distinct in its own subgenre within the horror category. The one key element that runs through all of it is that it is extreme, and usually involved the slow and painful evisceration of a human, usually conscious at the time.

It’s almost like a dare to test to the viewer: “watch this if you can.” I would say the nascent history of it started at the hands of Florida Hershell Gordon Lewis (d. 2016), with films like Blood Feast (1963). While there have been other gruesome films, such as Night of the Living Dead (1968) and the Italian giallo movement of the late 1970s through early 1980s, which was different as the brutality usually was included into the story. Even in touchstone films like Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), more was implied than shown, focusing more on the tension of the situation. Then Eli Roth released Hostel (2005), and changed an important aspect, making the story revolve around the gore more than the reason for it, as did other films like the Saw (2004) series. Each one raised the bar by ramping up the realism. What it has morphed into all these years is the torture itself. There isn’t even always a substantive storyline, or sometimes even a reason other than a joyride on someone else’s pain, such as with the more recent A Serbian Film (2010), known more for its audience reaction videos on YouTube than the film itself. Gore been around for decades, such as in Germany’s Nekromantic duo (1987 and ‘91) and from Japan, there was the likes of the Guinea Pig series (late 1980s), but mainly it had been more underground until Hostel and Saw.
The main difference between something like this genre and the European (mostly Italian) giallo films is that most of the latter is about the effects/affects before and after the killing (with exceptions of course), but the new trend is close-up details spurned on, I believe by the mainstreaming of clinical death images on shows like the CSI television series. What is also prevalent is the use of appliance over digital. When someone is attacked and hacked piece by piece, the reliance is on SFX, to keep the realism keen.  Many of the newer releases are also done as “found footage,” as in “the police found this footage by the killer(s), and here it is,” which means it may be grainy, jump or give some other visual cue that it’s supposed to be in the moment.

That is where Atroz comes in. Shot in Mexico (in Spanish with subtitles), it’s based on a 14-minute short the director did in 2012 (which is included in the extras), expanding the story and body count. In fact, most of the original short is incorporated into the first act of the film.

Carlos Valencia in the foreground,
Lex Ortega in the back
Two compadres/bad hombres in Mexico, Topo (Miguel Angel Nava) and Goyo (played by the director), are taken into custody by the policia after a car accident where they unintentionally kill a woman (you don’t see her bloody face, but you do see her brains spread across the road). The coppers discover a video tape and find the footage from the 2015 short, where a trans (M2F) prostitute is tortured to death. The framework about finding the tape, and the other recordings are often just a means to present the brutality to the viewing audience for most of the picture. Like I said, the violence begets the story, rather than the other way around.

In fact, most of the “shell” of the story may seem inconsequential at first, such as the too-long scenes of the police looking over the first shown death, before they find further evidence. But this being a world that would invent a Trump presidency, the police believe they must get evidence through any means necessary, so legally, on some level they are able to do to the brothers similar what they are accused. This is a damning statement on using torture for information, and its validity.

Now, I hope it’s no question to anyone reading this that anyone who deals with any of these guys are pretty much doomed, as this is the purpose of the story, so I don’t think I’m giving anything away; well, I hope not. If you’re expecting a happy ending, then you’re reaping in the wrong garden. But on a writ large stage, it is saying that the means is a method of control and dominance, more than anything else, even if it reaches a level of lust. Those under the police commander (Carlos Valencia) are willing extensions of his anger and will do things to the two without asking questions of morality or even sanity. A classic case of the pot calling the kettle, just with the degrees of legal power making the difference.

Don’t get me wrong, this pair is certainly not nice, and I am not justifying their actions, but the police stand on questionable grounds as well. During the second killing, again of a prostitute (this time a female, who is also a stripper) gives us the information that these guys have full-blown hematolagina. In other words, they are sexually aroused by blood (not their own, that is).

Quite a bit of what we see is the guys’ (and some cops) found footage. Now, I don’t own a video camera, but I do have video on my phone and digital camera, and have never had the “noise interference” that most of the found footage films show (jumping, skipping, like that). Is this common in real life or is it a trope used as an indicator to the audience that it’s the killers’ camera, rather than the director’s? To put it another way, it’s sort of like when a reel-to-reel is shown rewound, we hear sped, high-pitched voices, though rewinding is actually silent as far as the tape contents go. Personally, I can usually tell the difference because one is really shaky and the other relatively stagnant (or at least there is some stabilization level on it), so why do directors bother with that? Found footage is, in itself, annoying enough, so I say let’s all drop the digital noise and just show the image. Trust me, we usually get when it’s supposed to be one or the other. Thank you for that venting, and now back to our story in progress.

I’m not going to ruin the plot or the punchline – or the reasoning, but it is important to understand that there is a lot of cultural (religious?) gender and sexual politics running through the story, informing the action from the very beginning that is better understood by the end, though again, not condoned. As the action unfolds in the last act/video, a more complete story is given to the viewer that many of these types of films gloss over (i.e., why does that doctor want to cut up a live body in Hostel?; why does the person want to do the vile things they do in, well, too many to list?). For that I am appreciative, even for the squeamishness that is shown to us. For me, one of the most disturbing scenes is an act of violence to a man, while his sister watches stunned in the doorframe in the background.

Because of the gender politics, in part, there is a lot of nudity, of both genders. The blood and gore flow fiercely (though the fresh blood did seem a bit off in color and texture; totally forgivable), ably done by Reality FX Studios, run by Alfredo “Freddy” Sanchez and Jamie “Jimmy McFly” Nieto. The music is equally disturbing, running from noisy electronica (sort of like what is behind Public Enemy’s work) to heavy beats, supplied by the duo Eggun. Having the CD available with this package made it easier to give it some attention.

Along with the DVD, Blu-Ray and Soundtrack CD that comes in this package, there are a number of extras, generally ranging in the 3-6 minute range, including featurettes on the sound and visual practical effects (no digital), and the crowdsourcing video and similar Behind the Scenes, which focuses on talking by Ortega and producer Abigail Bonilla. Additionally, there is the aforementioned original short that is incorporated into this film, and a nice bunch of Unearthed trailers (including this one). In other words, it’s a really nice overall package.

Perhaps it’s because it’s from a country you don’t usually expect this kind of film (i.e., a different culture than those of which we are used to), but I have to say, the twist ending was extremely satisfying, and made me happy.

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