Directed by Lex Ortega
Written by Lex Ortega, Sergio Tello
Starring: Carlos Valencia, Lex Ortega, Florencia Rios, Julio Rivera
For those of you who may not know, I am a Hispanic-surnamed American. More specifically, I am of Mexican heritage. As such, it meant a few things – particularly on Sunday morning. On Sunday mornings, it meant being woken up by my father and taken to the nearby (or sometimes not so nearby) Mexican grocery store. Now, going to the Mexican grocery store was a lot different when I was but a wee TerrorScribe. Nowadays, the Mexican grocery store is much like going to any other grocery store with the inclusion of more Mexican products… and perhaps a few live chickens.
Back then, it meant going to a small corner store, almost invariably cramped and dark. It was squeezed full of brands I didn’t recognize and boxes I couldn’t read. One of the most curious things in there were the Mexican tabloids. Instead of starlets and gossip, the front pages were covered with grisly black and white photos of graphically violent crimes. It was memory that came back to me vividly while watching Atroz.
Following a fatality car crash, an investigating detective (Carlos Valencia – he was in plainclothes but the patrol officers called him “Boss” and I’m not an expert on Mexican police rank structure) finds evidence that the ne’er do wells who caused the accident (Lex Ortega and Julio Rivera) are guilty of more than just bad driving. The detective finds a video camera with a tape of them torturing and murdering a local sex worker. Immediately, we discover the justice system in Mexico is WAY different than what we’re used to in the United States.
After a series of short films – including the short this is adapted from – this is the first full length feature for writer, director and star, Lex Ortega. He is best known for his “extreme” work and for fans of those, he doesn’t disappoint. And maybe here is where cultural differences are important. I do not take in a lot of Mexican cinema and even less Mexican horror. It would be easy for me to look down my nose at this. And if the IMDB page is to be believed, this was made for about $7000 US. That is a MICROSCOPIC budget. It would also go a long way in explaining some of the choices they made editing and with the use of the “video camera problems” trope. But I digress.
The film opens with four minutes of credits – creatively done amidst the brutal backdrop of seedy streetlife and crime footage. With very little else to build on other than the accident, we are immediately introduced to the torture footage. While it may not be exploding heads or severed limbs that the standard American gore hound is used to, it’s gritty and perhaps transgressive in ways that we don’t expect north of the border – certainly not in studio or major-indie horror. This is niche horror… at least it is in America. In its home country, this may be what they call Tuesday. And it doesn’t stop there. We are only treated to bits of story on our way to the next atrocity. And so it goes until we have a tenuous web that connects the horrors together until its unlikely ending. Again, it seemed unlikely to me but maybe I just don’t have the cultural knowledge to say whether it’s right or not.
Atroz (or Atrocious in English) weighs in at a brutal 79 minutes, assaulting you almost from the word, “GO!” It does not give you subtext or art. It may just give you a slice of life from a meal you should never hope to partake.