Unlike other haunted house stories, 2017’s Terrified (Aterrados), from Director Demián Rugna, splits is story between three separate homes on a suburban block in Buenos Aires, each with its own unique mood and malevolent spirit. First we meet Clara (Natalia Señoriales), a woman hearing voices from her kitchen sink. Her husband, Juan (Agustín Rittano), dismisses her claims as nonsense. Increasingly annoyed by noise from his neighbour, Walter (Demián Salomón), Juan goes to investigate, shocked to find his wife floating in mid-air, her body slamming against the tile walls with increasing ferocity by an unseen force.
Meanwhile, next door, Juan’s neighbour Walter has his own problems. Walter is trying to capture …something … that comes out from under his bed at night, leaving him sleepless and terrified, desperately calling a mysterious Doctor who specializes in his “Problems”. Across the street, a grief-stricken mother mourns the death of her only son…until he re-appears in her kitchen. From here, Terrified kicks things into gear when a team of would-be paranormal investigators decide that something is very, very wrong in this neighbourhood and step in to solve the case and keep the public in the dark.
There is an ever building cloud of dread with each character in Terrified trying to quell the ghostly presences. A grizzled cop, officer Funes (Maxi Ghione), acts as our go-between for each haunt, with uneasy one-liners betraying a burnt-out policeman who maintains a sense of increasing uneasiness during his investigation. The storylines smoothly blend together and unlike most “ghost busting” premises, these paranormal investigators aren’t so much interested in destroying the unruly spirits in a one-on-one metaphysical fistfight, but rather they wish to study them to learn more about the other side. Here, the film’s sombre tone and commitment to a very tight and well paced script allow us to accept the some of the more fantastic elements as fact; in this film’s world the afterlife just…is…and everyone involved accepts that and we, the audience, are compelled to suspend our disbelief along with them. Genre tropes abound in Terrified, but by forgoing any attempt to explain any of the “rules” to how the afterlife works, we can focus on the action of the story itself, which zips along to an obvious but wholly satisfying conclusion.
And yes: while there are obviously ample jump scares given the material, they are delivered in a way that evoke dread and genuine gasps without being too cliched or overdone within the story. The special effects from Marcos Berta are fantastic given the films tight budget, with a very unique “ghost” mechanic and some sure to be iconic creature designs that succeed because of their simplicity, not in spite of it. With a mix of practical effects and CGI, his creations slink in the shadows and ooze through the cracks in reality with a creaking sound design that gives them real weight compared to the paper-thin poltergeists of so much throwaway Horror.
Director Demián Rugna delivers on the scares and shows why he’s a Winner of Fantastic Fest’s Best Horror Film for this one. Terrified knows exactly what it is and what it has to do to make your skin crawl and look behind the closet door at night, with the primary focus on the horrific events on screen instead of world building or character backstory. While very original, it’s stylistically still a clear love letter to its horror movie predecessors with some fun nods to classics like The Excoricist, Prince Of Darkness and The Grudge, which makes it even more endearing as a new addition to Horror’s best films. Part creature feature, part poltergeist detective story, Terrified is a great genre film for 31 Days Of Horror and shows tremendous promise for the new wave of South American directors working on small, tightly crafted films like this. Currently streaming on Shudder, check the trailer for this one below, a must see for all fans of Horror.