In 1976 The Atticus Institute of Pennsylvania bore witness to the only apparent case of possession certified by the US government and for the past 40 years no definitive account of what happened has been released. Chris Sparling’s horror mockumentary The Atticus Institute is indeed commendable for editing and performance, yet disappointing for its cheap scares, tired story, and non-existent characters.
The whole ‘found footage’ thing has garnered a pretty dubious reputation after, what can only be referred to as, a commercial shake-down. Everyone’s been using it for a good few years now and unlike most horror sub-genres, found footage appears one of the trickiest to sell in conjunction with an original idea. Some of the most memorable handheld moments of late come in the form of cameo techniques in non-found features. So technically The Atticus Institute is, for all intents and purposes, a very grave film but also a very dull one.
The fact that it is spooky is testament to the actors involved. William Mapother and John Rubinstein lead a collection of terrific character actors who help lend some much needed gravitas to proceedings. Atticus reminds us how unnerving it is to be told a story by another person, to feel the fear through their reactions, but it also reminds us of everything that’s uninspired or boring about the format, and genre, unfortunately. Thundering sound and jump scares are the easiest way to evoke reaction and it’s a shame they are so overused because Sparling has actually crafted a well-shot docu-horror you can really buy into.
With no interest in characterisation, The Atticus Institute swings from moment to moment, feeling like a ramshackle collection of turns as opposed to any kind of journey. Not bothering to reveal the source of the terror or give adequate back-story, the film doesn’t really throw up another option for us to invest in, except its original promise that something will happen.
Dir: Chris Sparling
Stars: Rya Kihlstedt, William Mapother, John Rubinstein, Sharon Maughan