Few horror films get touted as truly terrifying these days. We’re all either desensitized by violence.. or deterred by Twitter naysayers. (Who still swear that Hereditary undelivered, and The VVitch doesn’t count as horror. Wrong. So wrong.) Argentine horror film Terrified sets a high bar for itself. Who is terrified? The characters.. or the viewer?
The answer, dear Fiends – is all of the above.
Demián Rugna’s Terrified enters on a Buenos Aires couple (Natalia Señoriales and Agustín Rittano), driven mad by their neighbour Walter’s (Demián Salomón) late-night renovations and banging at all hours. A semi-detached house, every bump and bang can be heard through their bedroom wall. The woman begins hearing whispers coming from the kitchen sink. Walter hasn’t been heard from. Something terrifying is about to happen, and it’ll kick off a chain of events that’ll get the whole block involved.
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“Something terrifying is about to happen, and it’ll kick off a chain of events that’ll get the whole block involved.”
Terrified isn’t a conventional haunted house story, and it isn’t a conventional horror film. Obliterating the typical beats of a three-act-plot structure, Terrified plays out almost like a horror anthology. It’s Creepshow or Tales from the Darkside, but if all of the stories were blessed with the ability to unfold in-tandem, organically aware of one another, blurring the lines between what character belongs to what story, and which development belongs to whom. Throughout Terrified, we’ll be invited into several homes to (sort of) unravel the mystery behind just what paranormal foe we’re up against. But that foe isn’t waiting for the sequel to find its next victim. It’s already next door.
And though I found myself trying to cling to our only concrete thread; paranormal investigator Dr. Allbreck (Elvira Onetto), her colleague Jano (Norberto Gonzalo) and ex police officer Rosentock (George Lewis), they won’t be much help. Even with Dr. Allbreck’s calming demeanor, and Rosentock’s hilarious zingers – it’s quick to see that everyone will soon be in over their heads.
“[Terrified] isn’t afraid of jumpscares, but it’s also not afraid to subvert your expectations. What should have been a jump becomes a linger..”
I’m being vague because each individual story is brief; the scares that belong to each are so worth going into blind, I refuse to touch on them specifically. I will say – there are frights aplenty. Terrified‘s monsters would happily fit in among The Conjuring, or Indidious‘ modern legends, somewhere between a beaming Woman in Black, and the Crooked Man. Though all original and unique in their own right, none of the sequences’ jumping off points feel wholly unfamiliar; our first scare evokes recent memories of Hereditary, a particular undead boy reminding us of the very first time we met Annabelle in the first Conjuring film. But once we get into the heart of the fright, Terrified finds its own. The film isn’t afraid of jumpscares, but it’s also not afraid to subvert your expectations. What should have been a jump becomes a linger. Yes, there are scares to glimpse, there are scares to see – but there are also scares to watch. Threats that confront so long, you almost have to force your eyes to tear away from them.
North American horror fans may be a bit scattered throughout – looking for explanations, exposition, and a personal connection – but the film favors exploring one of its many terrifying branches than delivering you another Elyse or Ed and Lorraine Warren to emote with and root for. (Though Nightmare on Film Street has no doubts an English-language remake will soon be on the horizon.) Terrified manages to float above plot and pacing expectations by delivering another unique take on the boogeyman down the hall, a shadowy figure in the corner of your eye.
Though a bit of a jumble, Terrified serves up several, fresh, frightening and jaw-dropping sequences. With spooks worthy of the James Waniverse, horror fans will surely eat up some truly terrifying and original sequences that elevate it beyond standard jumpscare fare.
Terrified held its US Premiere at Fantastic Fest in September 2018, and garnered the award for Scariest film at the fest. The film was exclusively picked up by Shudder and will premiere on the streaming platform October 11th. Check out all of Nightmare on Film Street’s Fantastic Fest coverage here!