|Anchor Bay BRD blows lid on possession.|
Dir. Chris Sparling
Starring: Rya Kihlstedt, William Mapother, John Rubinstein
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Dr. Henry West (William Mapother) has devoted his career and risked his reputation in the study of paranormal activity. When a promising experiment in telekinesis is exposed as a fraud, his already-underfunded institute faces extinction until a very curious subject is introduced to him. Judith Winstead (Rya Kihlstedt) displays considerable gifts, but as experiments upon her continue, it's clear she's not your everyday garden variety subject in this field.
|Spewing viscous goo is always a treat, but|
as per usual, it's only the BEGINNING.
When the evil within threatens both herself and everyone involved at the institute, help from a shady military agency devoted to parapsychology is summoned.
The demon, now under the purview of these bureaucratic automatons, gets stronger and stranger.
When it's decided to control "Judith" and harness the demon's power as a secret weapon in the Cold War, all Hell (as it were) breaks loose. Don't these clowns know that the U.S. military and C.I.A. is never powerful enough to fuck with a demon from the deepest pits of Hades? Of course not. Scumbags know nothing.
Writer-director Chris Sparling has crafted one mighty strange picture. The premise is first-rate and the atmosphere is rich with portent and creepiness. Where the film errs is, oddly, is in its recreation of a cheesy television-style documentary on paranormal activity. I say "oddly" because Sparling does indeed capture the tropes of such programming perfectly, but in so doing, he does take something away from the picture's ultimate potential to slip into near-horror-classic territory.
Relying heavily upon a mix of talking heads interviews, different formats of video technology, evocative still photographs and portentous voice overs --as these programs so often do-- Sparling expertly sticks to his plan of action until he wisely manoeuvres the approach into straight-up narrative for the climactic moments. It's skilful and clever, but ultimately detracts from delving into deeper levels of character, especially in the case of Judith herself. We really get to know little about her, which is a shame, since Rya Kihlstedt delivers a throughly mesmerizing performance as the possessed and prodded victim. It's a largely physical performance and this handsome actress is clearly adored by the camera. Ultimately, she's placed into the symbolic position of being a victim, which is all well and good, but the movie only hints at who she was, what she went through and how she was indeed vulnerable to an attack from an unholy demon.
Save for Mapother as the conflicted, obsessed scientist whose humanity gets the better of him and the welcome appearance of 70s cult icon John (Zachariah) Rubinstein, most of the acting ranges from competent at the high end and godawful at the low end. As well, the tropes of the genre Sparling has chosen to ape, allow for way too many "You really had to be there to understand" interviews and none of it ever goes beyond the surface.
In spite of this, The Atticus Institute is just the right running time and seldom slows down enough to lose us completely. The premise is, ultimately, compulsively engaging and though the film is less reliant on visceral scares, the atmosphere of this dank, fluorescent-lit laboratory and the increasingly inhuman experiments upon the possessed woman are always nothing less than monstrously icky.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars
The Atticus Institute is available on a superbly transferred Blu-Ray (and, if you must, DVD) which captures the period look of the now-obsolete cameras and lenses which captured the "70s" footage. Anchor Bay/Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada have also created excellent front cover box-art that makes the disc a decent-enough keeper. The only drawback is a too-brief "making-of" which provides enough interesting insights from director Sparling that one would have much-preferred a full-length commentary track. The deleted scenes are a nice added bonus, mind you.
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