★★★ / ★★★★
Those who have low tolerance for horror should avoid watching “Terrified” at night. The majority of sequences are so well-executed that even the most standard setups, like a person waking up in the middle of night due to strange noises, possess a punchline or two so frightening, images are certain to linger in the mind for hours—days for the faint of heart. Writer-director Demián Rugna has crafted an inspired horror film with no intention other than to scare the viewers witless. The first hour is wall-to-wall old-fashioned scares. This is no ordinary haunting.
In most horror pictures involving possible paranormal phenomenon, there is one place of interest. The template: a family is terrorized by a ghost, demonic entity, or some sort of apparition. In this story, however, an entire street is haunted. Three homes, three families. There is no expository dialogue. Right from the opening scene we are dropped into a house where a woman, planning to cook dinner, finds herself hearing voices coming from the kitchen sink. But not just any voice—it is speaking to her, telling her it wishes to kill her. Hours later, she is dead. You will watch wide-eyed regarding the circumstances of her demise. One house down, two to go.
What makes the picture so effective is Rugna’s decision not to rely on jolts. There is an abundance of them—accompanied by a booming score. But look closer. A jolt is delivered—some thing appearing out of the darkness, for example—and then the scene goes on for an extended amount of time. We watch it crawl out from under the bed. We note the color of its skin, its texture, we imagine its stench. We stare at those glowing eyes and gaping mouth. Then we listen to how it sounds. We look at how it crawls, or slithers, or jumps across the room. A character encounters this strange entity during a most vulnerable time, what is typically a time for rest, sleeping, and dreaming. But we are in the room with him or her experiencing the nightmare of being trapped with something so inexplicable, ugly, and threatening.
This case, or series of cases, is assigned to Captain Funes (Maximiliano Ghione), a man who has a heart problem and a hearing problem, due to retire in two months. The bizarre and deadly occurrences on the street are so baffling that he asks the help of a former colleague named Jano (Norberto Gonzalo), a coroner who has had paranormal encounters with the corpses he’d examined. Since he is open to alternative explanations, perhaps he can make sense of what’s going on. Soon there are a total of three paranormal experts (Gonzalo, Elvira Onetto, George L. Lewis) on the scene. Their strategy is to explore one house each. They seem to know exactly what they’re doing and they do not look afraid. But perhaps they should be.
We observe the paranormal researchers perform their jobs. They take out curious instruments from their bags. Some involve liquids, others detect changes in magnetic fields. We are offered no explanation, but we can infer on how things work based on where the camera focuses on a specific part of an instrument and when. Showing rather than telling—an approach that prevents derailing pace and decreasing tension. Mainstream American horror pictures should take heed.
I wished the final fifteen minutes were as strong as the rest. Although still watchable, the resolution comes across as too bland for a movie of this caliber. While a definite explanation in regards to the central mystery is not required since we can make assumptions based on the rich pieces provided to us, a throwaway ending is inexcusable. The final scene is so uninspired, it borders on forgettable. Surely there is a better way to close out an otherwise terrific film.