At this point, I feel more than confident in saying that Shudder is the gift that just keeps on giving. It seems like every week, there is a new batch of terror unleashed on fans, courtesy of the horror streaming service. Sure, not all of them are great, but a good chunk are. The service’s latest release, Terrified, is one that could end up on many “best of” lists towards the end of the year…
…Written/directed by Demian Rugna and hailing out of Argentina, Terrified concerns a series of strange events occurring in a neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Soon, Deputy Funes (Maxi Ghione) and a trio of paranormal investigators are brought on to figure out just what is happening before the potential evil consumes the entire neighborhood.
As horror fans, we deal with a lot of overhype. It’s an epidemic, frankly. Since Terrified released on Shudder, there has been hype that the film is, er, terrifying. I can tell you with a few grains of salt in my mouth, that Terrified is indeed a masterclass of scares. Rugna throws us right into the proverbial fire, with a mix of whispers coming from a sink, strange noises, and shudder-inducing dialogue. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Rugna has created artfully crafted scares that are both unique and so terrifying that more uneasy fans may find their vocal chords hoarse by the end from all of the screaming. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but you get the point. This is the kind of movie that will have even hardened horror vets like myself shaking their head and going “no, no, no” as we anticipate the next grisly scene to come. And for fans that doubt the sort of horror which Terrified is capable of, just watch the first ten minutes, which contains probably the most shocking opening I’ve seen this year. And what’s even better? Being a ghost film that wasn’t made by a creatively devoid American studio, Rugna never concerns himself with bad CGI specters or cheesy jump scares. The terror in Terrified is genuine, living up to and beyond the film’s title.
Making things more interesting is that no one is safe in Rugna’s film. Terrified is a relentless work of horror that doesn’t give a crap about easing the tension so your nerves can relax for a bit. Around every corner and inside every cabinet is the potential for a blood-curdling scream. Not even kids are free from the grim events taking place on this particular street in Buenos Aires, and while I don’t exactly advocate for violence against children, I do find that horror is always at its scariest when the filmmaker isn’t afraid to shed the blood of a doe-eyed kid, because that’s when the audience realizes they’ve allowed themselves to be willingly strapped down to a chair, trapped in a room with a madman who has some not so pretty pictures to show us. Do you see? Some of this can be attributed to Rugna’s plot, which, to be frank, isn’t the film’s strong suit, but it is, in some ways, like a poor man’s Ju-On (The Grudge, for those that have only seen the American version). While the explanation is never quite as concrete as vengeance and rage in Ju-On, we do get the sense that Rugna’s ghosts are the sort of entities that latch onto anyone who comes in contact with the houses where these events are occurring. Basically, if you enter one of these houses, you’re probably not going to have a very long lifespan once you leave. By doing this, we’re never allowed to feel as if our protagonists are safe, which serves to ramp up the tension until our nerves feel like they may snap.
Our characters know it too. Aside from Funes, Jano (Norberto Gonzalo), Dr. Albreck (Elvira Onetto) and Rosenstock (George Lewis) all accept the supernatural occurrences going on around them. Rugna does a wonderful job of cutting out that usual trope of disbelief, you know, like when a character sees a chair levitating in the middle of an open field and says “don’t worry, it’s probably just the wind”. It’s incredibly refreshing to have a cast that buys into the obvious horror rather than denying it, because it helps the audience to buy into their very real fear as well. Hell, Jano is even called to a crime scene by Funes, walks into a room, sees the corpse of a recently killed boy sitting there, and is immediately like “yep, this kid’s a ghost/zombie”, though in much better written terms. It’s so nice to have characters that don’t make me nauseous with their stupidity.
What doesn’t work so well with the characters though is motivation. Funes I buy, as an officer who wants to figure out what is happening to this neighborhood and the woman he loves, but the rest of the cast more so feels as if they’re there to do their best Zelda Rubinstein impression from Poltergeist with thoughtful silences and somber exposition. None of this is ever too on the nose to get in the way of the film, but since Jano, Albreck, and Rosenstock all display a similar personality, which is that none of them have much of one, neither stands out from each other, making them un-relatable and even pretty forgettable despite good performances from the actors/actresses.
Rugna also incorporates a timeline that bounces around quite a bit (again, similar to Ju-On), which occasionally puts the pacing off balance. It doesn’t help that the occasional scene runs far too long, such as when Jano discovers the previously mentioned zombie/ghost child sitting at a table, which is mostly discussion between Jano and Funes, before becoming a conversation between Jano and Albreck, which, altogether, if it wasn’t twenty minutes, it sure felt like it. Again, Rugna writes haunting dialogue that certainly has the power to unnerve the audience, but it’s moments like these where you can start to shift in your seat and think to yourself, we get it, this is all very creepy, moving on. At a runtime of just under ninety minutes though, this is hardly ever a major issue.
You’re probably wondering about the look of these ghosts and weird zombie children. I mentioned earlier there’s hardly a whiff of noticeable CGI in the film, and just like sunglasses, these ghosts are extremely effective and protect your eyes from too-bright and shiny images. Terrified features a wide range of different specter effects, such as corpses that look like the burnt Chucky doll at the end of Child’s Play, others that are like strange creatures out of The Thing, and even one reminiscent of a grotesque effect from In The Mouth of Madness. Terrified fully intends to scare the crap out of you, and Rugna deploys plenty of breath-taking, blood-stealing entities to do so.
As horror fans, we’re all looking for that next good scare, and I have confidence that Terrified will give you exactly that. There are still a few months to go in 2018, but so far, Terrified is one of if not THE scariest film of the year. The film isn’t perfect, but when it comes to scaring your skeleton out of its skin, Terrified gets the job done. And just in time for Halloween.
Terrified is now available on Shudder.
By Matt Konopka