Directed by Chris Sparling
Written by Chris Sparling
Starring William Mapother, Julian Acosta, Anne Betancourt
92 mins - Horror | Thriller - Release date: 20 January 2015 (Blu-ray/DVD)
Documentary style filming, psychokinetic and clairvoyant studies, possession, and classified files, yes, it sounds like an episode of The X-Files, but it’s also a formula that works. Combine all that with producer Peter Safran (The Conjuring, Annabelle), a solid story, and a great cast, and it’s a wonder that The Atticus Institute didn’t do better.
Basically, we have The Atticus Institute, a small psychology lab in Pennsylvania that was established in the 1970s to study individuals with ESP, clairvoyance, and psychokinetic abilities. When years of research is thwarted, in walks Judith Winstead — a woman who demonstrates abilities beyond the scientists’ wildest imaginations. What they didn’t expect was demonic possession.
When things exceed the institute’s capabilities, they call in the government. At this point in the movie begins the slow progression toward a thinly veiled criticism of government sanctioned torture and weaponization at any cost. The, the pace, and the intensity also increases after the movie’s split… as does the audience’s discomfort.
Some audiences might not have the patience for the first half of The Atticus Institute, as it lays the foundation with present-day versions of the scientists recounting their research in the 1970s — and the movie takes its time doing it. I think this is fantastic though, for at least two reasons: 1) It creates empathy for the characters, and 2) It makes the second half of the movie more intense without going over-the-top.
We do get glimpses of Dr. Henry West’s (William Mapother) personal life through testimonials from his children and his wife. These testimonials indicate that West is dead and that throughout the study of Judith his behavior at home changed drastically, and I do wish that they had actually showed some of that. But I do understand that doing so might have changed the tone of the movie, removing the focus from where it needed to be.
There are also some potentially iconic horror images to be derived from this movie, the most obvious being the priest in the gas mask. That was just creepy. Speaking of the movie’s design and look, The Atticus Institute looks beautiful and feels genuine in both aspects as aand as a period piece. Not overtly original, but the choice to use a yellowish hue and a grain effect for the scenes taking place in the ‘70s was a wise one.
There’s not really any gore, and that’s fine because this isn’t that sort of horror. This is the type of horror that gets in your head and sits with you for a while.
The idea of possessing the possession, as the box cover states, is a great one. So is the concept of weaponizing a demon possession. There are a couple of tricks played in this movie that might cause audiences to say, “Daaamn!” but for the most part things proceed fairly linearly and predictably. At the same time, writer/director Chris Sparling did a great job of sticking to the story at hand without deviating into unnecessary terrain. You can definitely watch The Atticus Institute multiple times and I think as the years pass it will only get better.