A young boy is hit and killed by a bus. A housewife is found hung in her bathroom. A man has disappeared in his home. Three incidences, three houses, three souls have one thing in common. They’re neighbors. The unusualness surrounding each tragedy grabs the attention of former forensics investigator Jano who’s own experience with the paranormal thrusts an unquenchable desire to examine the supernatural. In a matter of coincidence, Dr. Mora Albreck, a vocational psychokinetic researcher, follows up on the disappearance of the man who called her countless times for help, but then just vanishes. Accompanied by Dr. Albreck’s assistant, Dr. Rosentock, and Detective Funes, a weary, on-the-edge officer with a bad heart, the divide themselves to stay the night in each house and experience the paranormal phenomena calling from the beyond, but the entities calling just might terrify them.
Hailing from Argentina comes the shivering, cross dimensional unknown from writer-director Demián Rugna’s 2017 properly titled, “Terrified.” Originally known as “Aterrados,” the Buenos Aires filmmaker, who’s helmed hell bound thresholds previously with his introductory feature film, “The Last Gateway,” remains inside the grindhouse and horror bubble with another slit between realities thriller. This particular bubble bursts with a whirlwind of nebulous outbreak of terror while providing microbe commentary about the potential dangers of Latin America’s water system and a perspective theme that speaks volumes on the issues of duality in what really happened and what the general public is told. Don’t trust your eyes! Nothing is what it seems! That’s the whole premise of “Terrified’s” knee-quivering appall, produced by Fernando Díaz under Machaco Films and the Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales (INCAA).
Rugna’s paces “Terrified’s” entropic buildout near the edge of an anthology, ghosting us the one reason for a neighbor’s supernatural experience for the next to eventually bring the heart of the cast together as a motley group of paranormal investigators. Starting with retired forensic specialist Jano who has a morbid curiosity for the unknown that fascinates him more than the abnormal mortifies him with fear. In his first feature length performance outside of television, Norberto Gonzalo understudies the very concept of the character Jano with objective eye for curiosity and knowledge much like any scientist. Jano is invited by Detective Funes, played by another television regular, Maximiliano Ghione, to the investigation of a recently deceased boy’s corpse having returned to his childhood home and is now a rigor mortis statue sitting upright at the dining room table. Though through exposition about their training and partnership over the years, Jano and Funes sit on the opposite sides of the fear spectrum with Funes’s engendered nervousness to the whole uncanny event and mentioning his bad ticker which comes into play later on in the story. Opposite side of the street, in walks into frame Elvira Onetto, an appropriate name for the film at hand. The “Jennifer’s Shadow” actress is Dr. Mora Albreck, renowned paranormal psychologist checking in on a manic patient who recently disappeared. Rugna really appreciates the mindset of the kindred spirits in Jane and Dr. Albreck with their sense of childlike giddiness toward the whole matter while those around them – like Funes or the boy’s mother – shiver with fear or break psychologically. While Jano and Dr. Albreck naturally work their way into the story, Dr. Rosentock is left with being the odd eccentric out. While just as enthusiastic about the phenomena that’s swallowed souls around the neighbor, Rosentock just appears as Dr. Albreck’s assistant who has traveled from a great distance to study…something like what’s happening…so is said in the film. Played by George L. Lewis in his only credited role, Rosentock is as much as self-assured, unafraid, and matter-of-fact as he is a caricature of old Hammer Horror style scientists when dealing with otherworldly entities, imposing a need for a little weight to his story, but, unfortunately, his participation lives and breathes only as participate to Albreck’s project. There are many fine performances around with the ebb and flow of minor characters, played by a talented cast that includes Julieta Vallina, Demián Salomón, Agustín Rittano, and Natalia Señorales.
“Terrified” is one of those movies where the silence and the stillness can have a higher affect on the spine-prickles. Rugna’s gold standard patience establishes a tense tone without the supplementary tumultuous, ear-splitting chaos that usually grinds teeth and curls toes as the sediment of panic begins to settle at the pit of the stomach. Marcus Berta and Lionel Cornistein’s blend of practical and visual effect are near seamless, but ultimately land the one-two knockout punch of anxiety-riddled scares with tall, crumpled monsters skulking under the bed shadows, glowing eyes peering through wall cracks, and a the stiffly rotten decomposing boy popping into frame in a split second. Cornistein’s composite designs are not too shabby for the editor and visual effects artist’s first feature rodeo let alone generated a complex olio of otherworld oddities. In regards to “Terrified’s” themes, in my travels to Central and South America, I’ve been advised to be cautious in drinking the tap water that’s filtered differently compared to the U.S., leaving local microorganisms to swim in the guts of those unaccustomed to them, and Rugna points in that direction by consistently focusing on the water taps, drains, showers, the action of drinking water, and, also, literally spelling it out for us by Dr. Albreck to not drink the water in these spirit plagued houses due to microbes traversing from beyond through the water system. Dual perspectives becomes important as well. After the gruesome discovery of the boy corpse sitting at the dining table, Funes needs a rational explanation to report in contrast to the unexplained grisliness, something that makes sense and wouldn’t frighten the daylights out of him, his colleagues, or the general public. Coincidingly, Rugna creatures also exist on two different planes, sliding between the panes, and not always visible; this is another verbally illustrated facet that unsuitably reaffirms the theme.
“Terrified” scales the expansion of dimensions with bottomless creepiness and shock value, rifting from Shudder’s streaming service and right onto a UK Blu-ray home disc distributed by Acorn Media International. The region 2, PAL encoded, BD25 disc houses a presentation displayed in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with a 15 rating for strong horror, bloody images, and language. The 1080p, HD resolution is an indifference concern with the already blemish free digitally shot film, but director of photography, Mariano Suárez, heeds every shot taking Rugna’s perspective theme to heart with lowlight and obscurities as fear-fodder. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix flexes a full-bodied, channel defining muscle with clear, prominent dialogue, a diabolical range in sound design, good depth, and an off-key canorous soundtrack because every horror fan eats up an inharmonious and creep tunes. Unfortunately, much like the “Belzebuth” release, “Terrified” comes with no special features other than a menu with the animated trailer of the film. “Terrified” is the chef’s kiss of Latin American horror, an epitome of jaw-clenching terror that’ll have you sleeping with the lights on tonight.