Studio: Artsploitation Films
Director: Sebastian Rotstein, Federico Rotstein
Writer: Sebastian Rotstein, Nicolas Gueilburt
Producer: Sebastian Perillo, Daniel Werner, Federico Rotstein, Sebastian Rotstein
Stars: Lu Grasso, Augusto Alvarez, Cecilia Cartasegna, Julian Larquier, Gaston Cocchiarale, Walter Cornas, Agustin Ritano, Juan Barberini, Rafael Ferro, Jorge Prado
Five horror tales feature Argentinean urban legends of revenge, zombies, brutal murder, snuff films, and a killer in the making.
Either English was an unfamiliar language for whoever translated the festival screener of “Terror 5,” or Google Translate provided automated subtitles by default. Actually, the first scenario is more likely since Google knows the difference between “your” and “you’re” and doesn’t put an extra ‘o’ in the word “lose.” Nevertheless, it’s an important disclaimer because my perception of the Argentinean horror anthology is almost certainly skewed by fundamental misinterpretations of the filmmakers’ probable intent.
Literal translations make for a terrible way to experience a motion picture because you miss meaning that comes with certain word choices or specific sentence structure. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t necessarily be an insurmountable impediment to understanding a movie. From expressions, inflections, and action onscreen, the greater gist of a cinematic story is often communicated through visuals and tone.
But “Terror 5” takes place in a slightly surreal dreamscape with undercurrents of South American sociopolitical commentary. It also arranges the scenes of its five separate stories out of chronological sequence. For an American already unfamiliar with Argentinean culture, losing linearity on top of grounding in a relatable world makes poorly transcribed dialogue additionally difficult to decipher.
I’m not referring to aforementioned examples of grammatical errors or an occasional misspelling. Following are a few instances where written English equivalents don’t match spoken Spanish words, and I possibly missed some nuances as a result.
The first words of the film come from a newscaster reporting on a local legal proceeding. She starts, “The rumors that led to the outburst continue despite curfew. There is a strange mood surroanding (sic) the Congress. 3 years of delay that are now concluding upon impeachment against Dr. Palacios…” Say what?
A teenage boy who believes his classmate has agreed to have sex with him expresses gratitude by saying, “thanks for accomplish my desires.” In response to a question about why he is looking out a window, the same boy later answers, “I see if everything remains the same.”
During a raspy bout of phone sex, a seductive woman lists wanting to “have a sexual encounter with no words” as being a fantasy. Yet another person proclaims, “I made some research” when I assume what he meant to say is, “I looked into it.”
If and when “Terror 5” receives a formal English language release outside the festival circuit, its subtitles will probably (hopefully) improve, rendering the preceding 400 words irrelevant. For now, it bears mention that this review is based on a screening that may not accurately represent the film, as dialogue was consistently “off” enough to distract mental focus toward having to reinterpret practically everything.
For all the moaning done about poor subtitling, the greater issue with the anthology is its disjointed presentation. Supposedly based on five “true” or semi-true urban legends, “Terror 5” tries a technique of intertwining its tales by playing four out of five concurrently, even though they don’t take place at the same time.
It’s an almost clever conceit for three of the pieces. None of the stories are directly related, though the small ways some of them do connect are kind of creative.
However, the first standalone story clearly has no bearing on anything else. “Colegio” is made more conspicuous by being the only piece that plays in its entirety without cutting to another tale also in progress. Its sore thumb placement makes it seem as though “Terror 5” crammed an unrelated segment in the least intrusive slot simply to push the film over feature length.
Every anthology has a weakest link and “Colegio” is “Terror 5’s.” An interpretive allegory about a seductive student who takes a classmate down a dark path, there isn’t much to be said in summation other than the anthology starts in a hole of disinterest by opening on its least affecting offering.
“TTT” steps things up a touch when two coworkers looking to have a secret sexual rendezvous choose a motel room whose mirror only reflects one way. “Terror 5” has several bright spots of unflinching frights that work well in their sudden outbursts of brutality. “TTT” is one of them, except it suffers from the problem of bloating itself with “blah blah blah” back and forth between the couple before getting into the grit.
The same is true of “Senorita Virga.” The centerpiece story of sexually frustrated, bullied teen Bruno finally standing up for himself in the worst way imaginable explodes in a viciously dark climax. Yet it too has inconsequential exposition. There is some entertainment value in its depiction of somewhat obnoxious teens partying while watching a supposed snuff film. It could just use a trim because whenever the tension between Bruno and his bully isn’t at the forefront of the buildup, “Senorita Virga” sags.
You may have noticed sex plays a part in every segment described thus far. “Marina y Mariana” is no exception. The film’s official festival listing summarizes “Marina y Mariana” as the story of two men planning to swap girlfriends, but are due for an unanticipated turn of events. In no way does the English translation make this plot evident, which might explain why this piece comes off as more confounding than the others. Somewhere in here might be moral subtext about infidelity, but I can’t be completely sure.
The backdrop for “Terror 5” is “Gritos,” which effectively operates as the wraparound story. It concerns a community revolt after corrupt politicians are acquitted of criminal charges stemming from a construction site collapse. 15 people died in the collapse, yet at least 18 zombies with glowing blue eyes rise from their graves to exact revenge. I don’t exactly know how to interpret the fact that the numbers don’t match up. And I don’t know why the piece culminates in a confrontation with a grieving bus driver who ends up overrun by the undead too. What I do know is that these blue-eyed shamblers might outmatch the pirates of John Carpenter’s “The Fog” in the creepy corpses with glowing eyes department.
Which is the strength of “Terror 5” in the end. Sharp camerawork charges the atmosphere with suitable chills and that attention to cinematography carries the film further conceptually than the stories themselves do.
“Senorita Virga” and “TTT” involve two terrifying premises that work well to take lighthearted moods of sex and banter into unexpectedly macabre swerves, even while weighted down with unnecessary padding. The deeper value of “Gritos” is lost in translation, although it remains moderately arresting solely on a visual level. “Marina y Mariana” comes across as meanderingly meaningless. We’ve already covered how “Colegia” ranks on the bottom rung.
If each story counts for a star, “Terror 5” can have two. “Gritos” comes close enough and the overall anthology leaves a deep enough impression that one more may push the ranking over the midpoint.
Keep in mind that three out of five stars could be too high or too low, considering how my unusual Spanish-to-English experience worked out. It would also be easier to simply say which shorts should be zeroed in on while identifying those that slow down the pace. If only the choppy structure didn’t rend such a recommendation moot by stirring the good and the bad into the same simultaneous soup.
Review Score: 60