"In Mexico you can kill anyone and get away with it ..." - former mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani.
A fast-paced opening montage of footage shot on the streets of Mexico swiftly sets the scene for the world we are about to inhabit over the next 80 minutes. It's a place where police sirens dominate the airwaves, prostitutes lurk on most corners and the homeless lie in gutters while people pass them by without care. Onscreen text tells us that, of the 27,500 murders committed in Mexico, 98% of them will remain unsolved.
In the thick of this grim environment are Gordo (Julio Rivera) and Goyo (writer-director Lex Ortega). When we first meet them they're being detained in the back of a police car, having just been involved in a drunken road accident which has resulted in the death of a young woman.
Commander Juarez (Carlos Valencia) arrives on the scene and, upon recognising one of the men, promptly searches their car. In it, he finds a gun and a camcorder. Playing the latter reveals the pair of reckless drivers to be something even worse: the tape details their abduction, rape and murder of a transsexual prostitute.
With the assistance of tough cops Topo (Miguel Angel Nava) and Mike, Juarez attempts to beat the whereabouts of the prostitute's body out of Gordo and Goyo. Upon having his bollocks electrocuted, Goyo relents and points the police in the direction of a disused wastage dumping site. It's here that they uncover more tapes, giving them - and us - further insight into both Gordo and Goyo's savage natures, and their motivations.
Co-produced by Ruggero Deodato, ATROZ is an extension of a 14-minute short film of the same name from 2013. Here, Ortega incorporates all of that footage, using it as the footage Juarez first watches on the camcorder - the abduction and mutilation of the prostitute. This is savage stuff indeed: the victim is beaten severely, has their hair burned off with a cigarette lighter, has their own shit rubbed all over them, is stabbed in the chest, shot in the face three times...
These scenes, in fact, are probably the harshest in the entire film. As Ortega says on the disc's commentary track, if you can get through this segment you'll most likely have no problem surviving the remainder of the movie. Though that's not to say there isn't more barbarism in store. On the contrary, prepare yourself for extreme police brutality; incest; anal rape; vaginal scissor-fucking; castration and breast removal...
Most of the violence is filmed in a low-grade, found-footage style, so comparisons to AUGUST UNDERGROUND are inevitable. But that's underselling ATROZ badly - its framing story is incredibly slick and polished, not just visually but in terms of adroit editing, stellar acting and hugely convincing electronic score.
Is it gore for gore's sake? No, not really. There's an emerging plot here (even a twist-of-sorts), and the overriding feeling is that Ortega wants to vent his frustrations about existing in a country where life truly is cheap. The word "control" is used several times in the screenplay, and it's control that forms a central theme here: Gordo and Goyo's control of their victims; the controlling nature of their sexual hang-ups provoking them to destroy that which they find threatening; control within a family environment; police control, and so on. Ironically the underlying message is that virtually none of these characters have any control: they live in a world where everyone and anyone can become a victim, at any time. It's a brutal world, and Ortega doesn't shy away from showing such brutality in all its guises: political corruption, class struggles, sexual repression, parental dictatorship, police violence, human squalor and so much more. Don't expect a happy ending.
Unearthed Films bring ATROZ to home video in its fully uncensored form. Knowing they've got a beast on their hands, they've deemed this one worthy of a most impressive blu-ray/DVD/CD triple-disc combo release. Housed in a fold-out digipack, it's a very nice proposition.
The blu-ray disc presents the film in its original 1.78:1 ratio. Presented as an ably-sized MPEG4-AVC file, ATROZ looks great - when it's meant to. That is, the framing cop story is slick, clean, polished ... it looks pretty incredible here. Obviously the "found footage" is shot on differing mediums (video etc) and looks rougher, or more faded, as a result. This also necessitates that the aspect ratio fluctuates at times.
Spanish audio is proffered in options of 2.0 and 5.1 surround mixes. Both are great, with the latter providing a little more weight in terms of bassy soundtrack. Optional English subtitles are easy to read at all times. They're riddled with typing errors but I didn't feel like this distracted from what was unfurling onscreen.
An animated main menu page leads into an animated scene selection option, from which you can access the film via 10 chapters. The pop-up menu option is disabled during film playback.
Bonus features begin with two audio commentary tracks from Ortega. These are, I imagine, almost identical in terms of content - one is spoken in English, the other in Spanish. Naturally, I opted for the former option! First off, the director informs of us how the film was inspired by stories that the Mexican authorities paid the producers of Bond feature SPECTRE to hide the "fucked-up parts" of the country while shooting their film. He talks about how his love of Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST inspired him to format the film in a similar manner - a traditional film style opening which later leads into found footage. There are a couple of good anecdotes (65 passers-by rang the police reporting the fake road accident at the film's start, for example) and Ortega offers plenty of insight into the restrictions of filming with a low budget. There are a lot of pregnant pauses, certainly, but Ortega prevails by way of being interesting and engaging at all times.
That original 14-minute film is provided here and is a great addition. It feels ever darker, more insidious, when removed from any surrounding plot. It looks rawer too, free from the additional colour correction and refined editing that Ortega added to it for its inclusion in the feature film.
A 4-minute crowdfunding video is essentially an advert to get the film financed, with friendly addresses to the camera from Ortega and some impressive endorsements from luminaries within the Mexican horror industry.
Another 4 minutes are spent on a behind-the-scenes featurette which features a good interview with producer Abigail Bonilla, who further discusses the themes addressed in the film.
Short documentaries on the music and sound design, and the practical effects, follow. The tour of Reality FX Studios is a highlight. Well worth a watch, these featurettes are each also 4 minutes in length.
The above featurettes are all in Spanish language but come equipped with clear English subtitles.
A production gallery mashes up stills from the film with more candid shots from the shoot.
We also get the film's original 2-minute trailer, along with previews for AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BOUGUET OF GUTS AND GORE, AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BLOODSHOCK, FLOWERS, FRANCESCA, SHEEP SKIN and FAIM DE MORT (the latter is probably the shortest, fastest trailer I've ever seen!).
The DVD disc contains all of the above material, albeit in standard definition.
As for the CD, it offers a solid playback of 17 tracks - a total running time of 52 minutes. The sounds range from guitar-tinged techno beats to heavy ambient strains more typical of a modern horror movie. Good stuff.
ATROZ is a well-made film, with more to say than your average "extreme horror" outing.
Unearthed's release is great. Highly recommended (if you can stomach it).
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Unearthed Films|
|see main review|