Released Oct. 12, 2018
Language: Spanish (Argentina)
Unrated (equal to R rating for graphic violence, imagery, and language) – 1hr 27min
Directed by Demián Rugna
Starring Ariel Chavarría, Maximiliano Ghione, Norberto Gonzalo
Residents of a city street are plagued by intensifying supernatural phenomena that begins to claim lives in a violent fashion. In an effort to clear the name of a man falsely accused of his wife’s murder, three paranormal investigators and a police captain team up to discover the source of the malicious activity, which may be more horrible than they could have imagined.
Terrified wisely avoids the found footage format that has become so popular for telling these kinds of stories in favor of a traditional presentation. However, the movie is split into two distinct halves – the first told largely in flashback during an interview and the second moving forward from there. The narrative though generally works to provide a platform for set pieces with big scares in mind.
Terrified exists for only the one objective – to get under your skin. To its credit, it largely succeeds. Despite the fantastic circumstances that drive the plot here, the proceedings ground themselves firmly in reality. It plays everything with a straight face and an unblinking stare. Frequently, that’s not enough in itself to really sell the material and can often backfire into unintentionally laughable seriousness, but director Demián Rugna demonstrates a great awareness of the subtle details that promote suspense and uneasiness.
Those little flourishes are played with patience and confidence throughout, so when Terrified makes its move and hits with the jolt of a scare or the horror of a gruesome reveal, it worked to earn that moment. When a grown man checks under his bed in a panic before he dares to put his feet on the floor, it has a lot of unnerving impact since all that has been established by then is how truly malevolent this mysterious presence is – we don’t know what he was expecting to see under there, but it certainly can’t be good. That’s a single example that doesn’t give too much away, but those types of set-ups provide the backbone of the film.
The story, on the other hand, could have benefited greatly from that same meticulous consideration. The movie is only interested in providing hints at the greater nature of the forces at play, but those hints neither satisfy nor are they necessarily coherent when taken as a whole. There’s definitely an interesting mythology guiding the action behind the scenes that invokes shades of Event Horizon and Prince of Darkness, which are less typical influences for a haunted house flick, but the glimpses into those inner workings mostly serve to baffle and frustrate, especially for a film that centers so much around the process of investigation. Also, the ending is something of a shrug. Don’t get me wrong though – the horror elements of Terrified are strong enough to overcome the weakish plot.
The other components of the movie hit the mark as well. The acting contributes to the sense of gravity that provides an effective contrast to all the phantasmagoria. The score, composed by Pablo Isola, is properly creepy, even if it isn’t particularly distinctive with its droning synth and haunting piano notes. The setting of a cramped urban street in Buenos Aires provides an outer layer of claustrophobia on top of the interiors of the homes themselves. Aside from a moment midway through when the plot focus shifts for the back half of the film, the pace moves along nicely.
Terrified is a great example of a pure horror experience. The story is rather thin, there’s no ambitious attempts at allegory or messages to interpret about greater themes, and it’s not concerned with portraying some visually elaborate style. It just wants to scare you. It plays somewhat like Hereditary‘s leaner, meaner Argentine cousin – it just wants to get down to business, and fortunately for the audience, business is good.