Terrified (Aterrados) (2017)

Arrow Video FrightFest 2018: Terrified (Aterrados) (2018)

Terrified (Aterrados) begins as a literal kitchen sink drama. In an ordinary Buenos Aires home, young housewife Clara Blumetti (Natalia Señoriales) hears susurrant exhalations coming from her kitchen’s basin, like the sounds of bad plumbing. The only indication that there is anything out of the ordinary here are the uncanny camera angles used by DP Mariano Suárez – first a very slow track from behind Clara, and then a POV shot up at Clara through the drainpipe. Yet by the time her husband Juan (Agustín Rittano) has returned home, happily chattering about how the dog that they ran over the other day is still alive (“Thank God we didn’t bury him, right?”), Clara is insisting she heard human voices in the kitchen all afternoon, telling her they were going to kill her. We may be wondering, with Juan, whether Clara has lost her mind – but later that night Juan himself, woken by banging coming from the house of their neighbour Walter Carabajal (Demián Salomón), witnesses something profoundly irrational and pernicious taking place in his own home, and his whole life goes rapidly down the drain.

It is an apt introduction to the third feature of writer/director/composer Demián Rugna (You Don’t Know Who You’re Talking To, 2016; The Last Gateway, 2007). For Terrified (Aterrados) is a film that exposes the most everyday of settings to paranormal incursions, which it interweaves into its achronological narrative in such a way that a constant sense of menace, even of doom, pervades everything, even as we struggle to get a fix on what exactly is going on. It will turn out that on this otherwise quiet street, three separate homes – Juan’s, Walter’s, and that of single mother Alicia (Julieta Vallina) – are being invaded by something otherworldly and undoubtedly malevolent that defies all rational explanation. A trio of paranormal investigators – Mario Jano (Norberto Gonzalo), Mora Albreck (Elvira Onetto) and Dr Rosentok (George Lewis) – gathers to record and measure these emergent phenomena, helped by Funes (Maxi Ghione), a hypertensive, half-deaf policeman who has been living with Alicia and her ten-year-old son Pucho (Matias Rascovschi) for years. Unlike the openly nervous Funes,  the three parapsychologists purport to be as unflappable as genre fans – and yet they will discover what is perhaps the ultimate terror for any horror viewer: that even the most casual acts of observation can lead to becoming implicated, involved and entrapped.

Terrified plays with many recognisable tropes of terror, while reorganising them in configurations that are defamiliarising and disorienting. There is furniture that moves by itself, lights that suddenly switch off, and interdimensional entities coming through the walls, Poltergeist-style; there are violently dreamlike levitations, as in A Nightmare on Elm Street; there is the thing hiding under the bed or in the closet, as in any child’s nightmare; there is the demonic figure filmed standing over the bed of a sleeping homeowner, as in Paranormal Activity; there are the revenant dead, as in Pet Sematary; and there are blood-sucking creatures, as in any vampire movie. Most of all, though, there is the sense of a relentless curse affecting a suburban neighbourhood, but also other places in the world, and transcending time and space in its different manifestations. Perhaps the closest analogue is the weird world of Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on: The Grudge, with its apparently episodic intrusions accumulating a peculiar interconnectedness.

Terrified lacks any obvious subtext or reference beyond its own highly effective fear-mongering, but perhaps whether you see something – or nothing – hidden beneath its surface structure, “depends”, as Rosentok puts it, “on your point of view.” Certainly Rugna is expert in leaving the viewer mystified, confused and in precisely the state signified by his film’s title, as he confronts us with the unknown, the inevitable and the irrepressible.

Strap: Demián Rugna’s paranormal Terrified disorients the viewer with its mixed-up three-act structure and its whole-hearted embrace of the relentlessly irrational.

© Anton Bitel