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May 22, 2015

The Atticus Institute

by Franz Patrick


Atticus Institute, The (2015)
★ / ★★★★

There is no going around the fact that “The Atticus Institute,” written and directed by Chris Sparling, is a terrible movie. Consider all faux-documentary horror films you can think of and observe that just about every cliché from the sub-genre is utilized. It is most uninspired and although the picture is only about eighty minutes long, it might as well have been three miserable hours.

A psychology lab that specializes in studying exceptional human abilities, such as psychokinesis, was shut down in 1976 by the U.S. government. There was one subject that captured the attention of the investigators. Her name was Judith (Ryan Kihlstedt) and ever since she slipped on ice and hurt her back, she began exhibiting strange behaviors, like taking on a different voice and starting fire using only her mind.

The picture never gets a chance to become scary. Part of the problem is the sloppy editing. It is too generous in employing cuts when a single take could have done the job. Thus, tension does not get established, let alone escalate, and we are left in our seats watching bizarre goings-on, but we do not feel anything in our gut. It gives us a passive experience rather than involving us into the story’s mysteries and secrets.

Claims that so-called researchers make are downright laughable. The script assumes that the audience is not intelligent. One that stood out to me is a man who claims that a random probability of getting a correct answer by guessing the shape printed behind a card is twenty percent. Thus, when a subject providing a correct answer increases to thirty percept, it is a significant difference. I did not know whether to laugh or feel insulted by this claim. A tip: If you are going to have a figure of authority speak directly to camera and talk about facts, at least provide a semblance of logic instead of spewing out numbers with the hope of confusing the viewer.

The first half is astoundingly bad, but the second half is simply depressing. Once the government takes over the psychologists’ project, the government officials’ treatment of Judith becomes a topic more worthy of exploration than Judith’s possible paranormal affliction. Who cares about supernatural phenomenon when a group of people gets involved in torturing another human being for the sake of getting political advantage? It would have been great if the writer-director had provided a bridge between the two extremes. Alas, the material does not possess the ambition to become more than a forgettable horror film.

There are a lot of flashing lights while room is dark, screaming and yelling, demonic voices, and grainy images when a supposed scary moment is happening. The movie is as flat as tap water; it does not bother to change things up tonally. We do not even learn who the characters are. I would like to personally ask the writer-director what inspired him to make this project because that inspiration, if any, failed to translate on screen.

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