An incredibly chilling story based on the events of Autumn 1976 when a small psychology lab became the unwitting home of the only ever U.S. government confirmed case of possession. In what quickly became a matter of national security, leading paranormal psychologist Dr. Henry West discovered that his latest patient Judith Winstead had inexplicable powers that simply could not be controlled. After being classified for nearly forty years, this is the frightening story of the Atticus Institute.
Spoilers follow ...
- The Atticus Institute review by NP
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Much of this documentary-style horror is filmed in flashback. The recreation of the world in 1976 is supremely handled, from the grainy filmic imagery to the fashions of the day to the laboratory equipment being used.
This is as near as what would actually happen should someone be tested for some kind of demonic possession. When someone becomes too uncontrollable and is seen to exhibit such power, governments would have to gain authority over events. And with human beings what they are, corruption is never far away.
Attempting to harness her power for political gain, Judith is told to reveal secrets held by rival governments, especially the Russians, who had previously exploited a telekinetic sensitive of their own.
Beneath all the testing, the electro-convulsive therapy, the bullying, the attempts at control, is the possessed person. Judith was of no concern to her ‘captors’, and for that, the demon inside her gains a kind of empathy with the audience. You want it to emerge and punish the narrow-minded officials. Only a handful of the original scientists (mainly head man Henry West played by William Mapother) exhibit any kind of sympathy, understanding – even acknowledgement – of the punishment being meted out. And yet as the story reveals, the creature is in control the whole time, influencing what her captors say and do.
The acting throughout is excellent. Although ‘The Atticus Institute is as convincing a depiction of supernatural events in the hands of officials as I’ve ever seen, this results in a lack of pace and spectacle – but that’s fine when the results are this good. The ending is low-key, the subtle, enigmatic nature of events in-keeping with the rest of the film. I found this thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, although the excellent Rya Kihlstedt (as Judith) was reduced to convulsing and shrieking throughout the dramatic middle portions of the story, which robbed us of her meticulous attention to shuddering and twitching detail which made the earlier elements of her possession so effective.