The Atticus Institute: Ambitious by Flawed Found-Footage Horror
John RubinsteinRya Kihlstedt...
The whole point of a faux documentary – or a ‘mockumentary’ – is to have the lines between reality and fiction efficiently blurred and hidden well enough to leave your audiences wondering whether what they’re watching is real or not. Take one of the greatest mockumentaries of all time; Spinal Tap had viewers believing that the band was real. Audiences are far savvier these days, yes, which makes Chris Sparling’s directorial debut, The Atticus Institute, a commendably ambitious effort that almost delivers.
Told through a series of found-footage materials and talking-head interviews, The Atticus Institute tells the story of Dr. Henry West (Mapother); a devout scientist who has spent most of the early 70’s studying and examining people with telekinetic powers in the aforementioned institute which he helped establish. The results of his continuous research were promising, but his scientific beliefs are soon thrown out of the window with the arrival of a patient named Judith, played by the exceptionally creepy Kihlstedt, who has been admitted to the institute for a thorough examination.
After putting Judith through a series of routine tests –each one delivering an off-the-chart result – the doctor and his fellow scientists, are pleased to see that the troubled woman holds genuine powers. However, her odd behavior soon brings in the interest of the government and as her terrifying disorder sinks deeper into the darkness, the doctors begin wondering whether Judith – and whatever has got a hold over her – can be tamed.
Channeling a truly menacing and threatening energy through those seemingly vacant eyes, Kihlstedt is thoroughly persuasive and you’re never quite sure whether to fear her or feel sorry for her. However, her ‘powers’ and the ‘secret’ behind it loses momentum as the story progress further into the mayhem along with Mapother’s Dr. West, who eventually disappears into the background along with the other lab coats in the room.
The biggest thing working in the film’s favour is its technical proficiency and the genuinely creepy and authentic stylistic approach it takes on. Told via a series of interviews, vintage photographs and grainy archival lab-footage, nothing about the story feels staged and Sparling does what many before him have failed in doing by providing a fresh approach to the worn found-footage subgenre. Successfully drawing his audience right into the heart of things, the story – written by the director himself – is not completely free of flaws, however, and there’s a sense of repetitiveness that kicks in about halfway through, eventually dragging the film to an unsurprising and unoriginal ending.