The Government gets in the demon possession business

Dr. Henry West (William Mapother) founded the Atticus Institute in the early 1970s to test individuals expressing paranormal abilities – E.S.P., clairvoyance, psychokinesis, remote viewing. Despite witnessing several noteworthy cases, nothing could have prepared Dr. West and his colleagues for Judith Winstead (Rya Kilstedt). She outperformed every subject they had ever studied – soon gaining the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense, who subsequently took control of the research facility. The more experiments they conducted on Judith, the clearer it became her abilities were the manifestation of evil forces within her, prompting the government to take measures to weaponize her demonic powers.

Writer and director Chris Sparling tackles a subject that has become increasingly popular in horror of late, demon possession. The Atticus Institute is ambitious in covering possession from a new angle, bravely attempting to meld found-footage with a modern documentary style. It also takes the unusual tact of stripping out possession’s religious trappings, one that may have worked more successfully in a better movie. Taking a cue from the LSD and psychic research once carried out by the United States Government, the film asks what would happen if a government agency attempted to control a possessed person?

The Atticus Institute is an interesting failure as a film, an experiment gone wrong in documentary storytelling. Chris Sparling was the writer behind Buried and ATM. This movie doesn’t fail at the conceptual level, the idea of the government seizing a possessed woman for their own needs is rather unique. It is a fresh idea in a genre starved for them. The basic story and characters are intriguing enough, which is why some of Sparling’s choices as director are so maddening.

Its Seventies’ period setting would have been far more effective if the movie had been filmed on real stock like 16mm film.

The conceit of this narrative is that it’s a modern documentary about the events surrounding a demon-possessed Judith Winstead and the Atticus Institute in the 1970s, interviewing surviving participants and relatives. The included found-footage is all badly doctored digital video and still photographs, presumably taken from government files. If people remember the Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction pseudo-documentary that ran on Fox many years ago, The Atticus Institute feels like its long-lost child.

The entire film barely runs over 80 minutes, yet feels repetitive by its second act. Once Judith is identified as an extremely disturbed person with psychic gifts, the plot becomes an almost unending series of experiments on her powers. Curiously, the audience is mostly kept from hearing Judith speak unless she is possessed. It is hard to identify with Judith’s suffering if you never get an idea of her as a person. The same could be said of Dr. West, the other primary character. A half-baked story-line for the institute’s founder feels distant and forced. The Atticus Institute’s core ideas could have been more fully explored and developed in a conventional narrative without better direction.

Can The Atticus Institute find an audience on home video? Budgetary issues seem to have hampered its final development. Its Seventies’ period setting would have been far more effective if the movie had been filmed on real stock like 16mm film. Where it ultimately fails is in emotionally connecting its main characters to the audience. The biggest frights in The Atticus Institute are derivative from earlier movies, lessening their impact.



VHS style @ 9:35

The Atticus Institute fares rather poorly on Blu-ray, mostly due to the conscious documentary aesthetic it incorporates. Much of the movie features doctored footage manipulated to look like videotape from the 1970s. Mashed up with talking-head segments done in razor-sharp digital clarity, it is a jarring visual experience.

The filmmakers clearly wanted the period found-footage to appear authentic, but much of the time it was a cheap substitute for actual archival materials. This was probably beyond the boundaries of the modest budget. Filming on actual technology available in the 1970s would have proved a much smarter creative choice.

Starz provides a solid Blu-ray transfer on a BD-25 without extraneous processing. There are a few stray moments of banding and chroma noise in the AVC video, for the most part this 1080P presentation replicates the 2K digital intermediate without introducing problems. The main feature runs just shy of 83 minutes, framed in a pedestrian 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. Its best moments are definitely the interview segments, the digitally-shot video has excellent contrast and lively flesh-tones. While the interviews not reference caliber, they display fairly pristine quality.


The included 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is asked to carry a heavy load for The Atticus Institute’s ultimate entertainment. The surround mix is quite active with sudden bursts of noisy action, hoping to startle listeners.

Like many other horror films, the aggressive mix is not shy on bass. All of that being said, the overall audio is fairly ordinary for a dynamic mix of this nature. Some of the dialogue is hard to hear in the archival footage, it is hard to tell if that was the intent or not. Victor Reyes’ music and incidental score is presented in perfect fidelity, one of the more polished elements in the entire film.

They have included optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. They display in a white font.

Audio ★★★☆☆

A featurette and some deleted scenes constitute the entire sum of special features. Starz neglected to include the trailer.

The Making of The Atticus Institute (09:04 in HD) – Director Chris Sparling goes into the movie’s origins and what inspired him to write it. Actors William Mapother and Rya Kilstedt show up together to answer a couple of quick questions. If you have seen a behind-the-scenes featurette before, nothing will come as a surprise.

Deleted Scenes (07:19 in HD) – Four scenes are presented in finished quality. They aren’t essential to the film and don’t really change its message.

Extras ★☆☆☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *