Atroz, the Spanish word for atrocious and certainly an indication to the viewer that this experience is going to be anything but lighthearted. True to its title, the debut feature from Mexican director Lex Ortega is a harrowing journey indeed. Its style channels August Underground and its violent depravity reaches Human Centipede 2 levels of intensity. Much like A Serbian Film though, this movie plays out as more of a gruesome drama than a horror film but is so horrifying that it more comfortably fits into the Horror category than anywhere else. So, clearly its qualifications as an extreme film are indisputable but still, the most important question remains: “is it any good?”
After two men are arrested at the scene of a car accident that claims the life of a pedestrian, the police find a video camera in the car that contains a horrific video of them torturing a transgender prostitute to death. The film then alternates between the brutal interrogation of the primary suspect Goyo (Lex Ortega) and the graphic crimes on tapes that the police find during the investigation.
What instantly stands out about this film, aside from the extremely disturbing content, is the acting. The amount of commitment and realism that the actors bring to this project would be impressive for any film but the fact that this was a micro-budget production made for the $7,000 that Ortega and the producers crowd-funded really takes it to the next level. Even down to the smallest part, the actors really deliver in this film but Ortega himself truly stands out with his portrayal of the hulking, depraved monster that is Goyo.
Another key part of this film is the gore effects, which are very well done, especially considering the budget. Now, any would-be filmmaker can put gore into a movie but what makes the film so effectively disturbing is the fact that Ortega knows how to work within the limitations of his budget. Instead of attempting to create elaborate scenes and special effects that become laughable when done on the cheap, he wisely sticks to gritty, realistic violence and very upsetting concepts. Graphic genital mutilation, rape, incest, shit eating, bloodplay and various kinds of torture are all presented in unflinching detail.
While I enjoy seeing so much horrific imagery in a film, in this case it does work to its detriment a bit as well. Since the film is a little light on narrative, the extended scenes of violence do have a bit of a numbing effect without a more substantial storyline to support them. Still, the aforementioned acting quality and gore effects do a lot to elevate the overall film beyond the status of a run-of-the-mill Torture Porn making this a relatively minor issue.
A larger issue is the fact that the film falls into the standard found footage trap where characters are recording even at times where it makes no sense to do so. It is logical to think that the killers would be recording their crimes for their own sick pleasure. However, the fact that some of the transitional scenes, as well as large parts of what occurred in Goyo’s old home movie, were recorded is a bit of a stretch. I can certainly understand why Ortega included them as they were essential to the story itself but a bit more justification, like the camera already being on for a different reason, would have helped rationalize the fact that they were being recorded in the first place.
Truly, the only time Ortega completely breaks with the reality he’s created is during a playback of one of the tapes that suddenly cuts to an interior shot of the person’s ass who is being raped with the barbwire dildo (that’s right, you heard me). Certainly a cool effect but doesn’t make sense within the found footage context.
Minor structural criticism aside, this is an incredible film. Not only does it go to levels of darkness rarely achieved in cinema but it also provides powerful social commentary. The film opens with a statistic that 98% of 27,500 murders in Mexico are unsolved which sheds a light on the reality of the real world conditions the filmmakers must contend with. In the behind-the-scenes featurette producer Abigail Bonilla talks about the climate of fear and hopelessness felt by so many residents of Mexico City and how the film represents the violence and horror they see all around them. To properly understand and appreciate this film it is necessary to remove yourself from the initial gut reactions to the horrific images and realize that this is an artistic expression of the rage and fear that so many people feel from living in a dangerous environment. The movie also accurately reflects the fact that monstrous humans aren’t created in a vacuum but in most cases are the result of abuse and a lack of understanding.
A must-see for fans of extreme cinema and those looking for a film that delivers a legitimately hardcore horror experience. Atroz claims to be the most graphic and goriest film ever made in Mexico and ya know what, I would absolutely believe it. But let’s hope that it doesn’t stop there and perhaps this will encourage other daring filmmakers to push the boundaries and create art that resonates on such an intense, visceral level.