In the 1970s a scientific research project became the only confirmed case of possession recognised by the US government. The details of the inexplicable events that occurred are being made public after remaining classified for nearly forty years.
On paper Atticus Institute is an intriguing proposition. A pseudo documentary in the style of a talking heads/classic footage documentary, the type of which you’d watch on Channel 4 on a slow telly night. It’s the premise that lifts this. In the manner of The Legend of the Blair Witch doc, this purports to be a retrospective look at some extraordinary events that took place in a research facility in 1976. The modern talking head footage is effectively interspersed with supposed footage ﬁlmed during the original from experiments.
The Atticus Institute was a research facility looking at ESP, and as the tale unfolds it becomes clear that they found one subject who really could perform extraordinary, and terrifying feats. Only thing is, they’re not particularly terrifying.
At times this really did outstay its welcome, and since the effects look comparable to something you may get in a television documentary, it’s a real shame the running time wasn’t equally at home with a midweek one hour documentary. I so wanted to like this, and early on it wasn’t clear whether this was going to ﬂy. It didn’t. Quite the opposite, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated with the ﬁlm as it unfolded. It was just too long, not at all convincing story wise, was lazy ( we all know having any ‘authority’ getting involved in any bad situation inevitably makes things ten times worse, but if ﬁlmmakers do employ that convention at least do something different with it. ), and as for the effects. There’s a reason why cgi often gets a bad rep from horror fans. Atticus Institute offers absolutely no argument against that reputation.
An interesting premise that ultimately fails to deliver enough to engage an audience. Well, at least not this audience member. But I’ve seen worse documentaries, so it could have been worse.
The Atticus Institute is a fake documentary that ALMOST nails what it set out to do. Be a convincing documentary.
Set in the 1970s the ‘original footage’ depicts paranormal research into the ESP phenomenon. It is similar to those popularised by the media at the time, as well as the slight of hand/trickery that was used and exposed by James Randi and Project Alpha (side note – read up on Randi). But as the film progresses instead of paranormal ESP effects being replicated by slight of hand, the subject being tested is possessed by a demon. While the initial story may seem a little far fetched, ESP was heavily researched and ‘attempted’ to be held to scientific scrutiny (both in the US and USSR) as a means of finding proof of peoples powers for use by the military.
The film focuses on the test subject Judith (Rya Kihlstedt) and the ESP testing programme run by Dr West (William Mapother). By using the documentary style the filmmakers have created in parts a very convincing film documenting Judith as she becomes overtaken by the demon. Couple the ‘original footage’ with the second hand interviews (all brilliantly done), and the film looks and flows like a feature length documentary intended for the Discovery Channel (or similar). Unlike some fake documentary or found footage movies, there is no question as to why this would exist or be made.
Rya is undoubtedly the star in the film and her performance is remarkable. She is able to change from shy to giving a silent stare that could kill someone. Unfortunately the acting and the mechanic provided by the documentary style can only take the film makers so far, and as the film progresses the pace slows down noticeably. There is also the issue with some of the actors being facially recognisable from other films (Rya has appeared in a number of tv dramas as recurring characters and a few of the others you may recognise depending on your viewing habits). Its not a problem that some actors are recognisable, but it does undermine the believability that this is real (as per the marketing).
Ultimately like so many fake documentary or found footage films Atticus Institute becomes hoisted by its own petard. As the film goes on it becomes questionable as to why certain chunks of footage exists. Why film SOME meetings ? why and WHO is someone filming the reactions of the scientists during tests?? Within the boundaries of the scientific records and second hand interviews the shots make no sense and undermine the rest of the film. Which it must be said at points in the first hour does what it set out to do rather convincingly. Atticus Institute isn’t bad, it just seemed to stumble at the last hurdle, which was rather annoying.