Director: Demian Rugna
Writer: Demian Rugna
Producer: Fernando Diaz
Stars: Maxi Ghione, Norberto Gonzalo, Elvira Onetto, Demian Salomon, Agustin Ritano, George Lewis, Julieta Vallina, Natalia Senorales
Officials investigate a residential Buenos Aires neighborhood where three homes are plagued by paranormal activity.
I stared at a blank screen for what felt like forever, unable to conjure an inventive angle for reviewing “Terrified.” Then I realized the Argentinean thriller is so to the point with its stripped-down scares, which in this case becomes an advantage, it doesn’t demand cleverness from a critique. “Terrified” simply charges in and goes straight to work with a lean and mean approach to classic paranormal activity chills.
Just days after the boy’s funeral, Alicia’s dead son inexplicably returns home to sit motionless at her kitchen table. Across the street, Walter swears a pale man that only he can see lurks within the walls of his house. Next door, Juan confronts his own supernatural horror when an unseen presence bloodily beats his wife by bouncing her around their bathroom.
With an urban legend tinge to their tones, “Terrified” spins these three tales into a single nonlinear narrative. Two paranormal researchers, a forensic analyst, and a cop connect the cases and open an investigation into this bizarre pocket of suburban Buenos Aires. As past deaths unfold in parallel with present research, the levelheaded team confronts a chameleon creature whose bloodlust threatens to take their lives too.
Don’t let the prospect of flashbacks or concurrent threads fool you into thinking “Terrified” is twisty or complicated. It’s neither. In fact, you’re more likely to feel a sense of déjà vu since story-wise, the movie doesn’t tread entirely original ground. Genre fans have seen visually similar setups involving reanimated corpses, lanky-limbed phantoms, and levitating furniture numerous times before.
But “Terrified” plants a unique flag in familiar territory by having a modestly unconventional presentation. Telling this story straight or as “found footage,” which is how we usually see such premises, would put formulaic plot progression in plain view. Cutting up chronology instead authors a more intriguing flow to the mounting mystery, rearranging events to effectively turn up tension with smartly satisfying suspense.
Although it doesn’t always run at top speed, “Terrified” never pulls the parking brake either. We sit in scenes only as long as necessary for soaking up plentiful ambiance of unease.
Other than one of the doctors rebuffing Walter’s initial claims over the phone, the movie doesn’t waste unnecessary time by forcing people to prove anything to anyone else. When Juan’s wife tells him she heard voices in their water pipes, he asks, “what did they say?” When the cop calls the forensics expert to examine the living dead boy, the corpse is already chillingly seated like a macabre mannequin. Even with Spartan sets and a casual pace, “Terrified” refreshingly maintains forward momentum by driving past typical pit stops of wheel-spinning exposition.
A mature cast of characters contributes hugely to an unexpectedly realistic feel. Virtually none of the main actors are under the age of 30. The paranormal researchers, who serve as primary protagonists, all appear to be in their 50s. This grounds “Terrified” in gravitas you don’t get in comparable chillers. Nothing against Specs or Tucker or Zak Bagans for example, but there aren’t any overenthusiastic caricatures or TV personality types among the investigators. Nor are there any harrumphing skeptics who predictably drop a jaw before the final frame. Everyone just comes across as an authentic person, which makes unimaginable circumstances seem somehow plausible.
Drawbacks are few, though they do exist. The shade of “been there, done that” has already been mentioned. The screeching strings of an “Insidious”-like score lay music cues on thick. Vagueness also has to suffice as far as explanations go regarding what’s going on. Yet while “Terrified” might not have the strength to land a knockout blow, the movie can still beat on anyone pretty good with a flurry of consistent shocks and competent in-ring execution that’s light on its feet.
If Goldilocks had to pick a horror movie to go with her porridge, “Terrified” would pair perfectly. Scares don’t run overly hot, but definitely don’t go cold. Suspense doesn’t hit too hard, but certainly isn’t soft either. “Terrified” exemplifies a textbook “just right” fright film whose temperature translates into broadly appealing terror entertainment.
NOTE: The film’s Spanish title is “Aterrados.”
Review Score: 75