When filmmakers decide to call their movie Terrified they’ve set a pretty high bar for themselves. For horror fans, it won’t be enough to just make them feel uneasy. Or to throw a few jump scares at them. Instead, this film will need to build serious fear to deliver on its titular promise. The good news for fans is that watching this movie can result in feeling uneasy, scared, and really terrified.
According to Science Alert, having a shiver run down our spines is a real, physical thing. When we feel an intense emotion, like terror, the hypothalamus in our brains tells our glands to produce a burst of adrenaline. This happens if we feel cold or if we perceive a threat. Then the arrector pili muscle in our skin contracts, giving us goosebumps and that crawly, shivery feeling. We can view the goal of a horror movie as trying to create this kind of immediate, physical reaction. While watching Terrified in a darkened theater a shiver ran down my spine more than once. Sometimes even during totally still and quiet scenes set in broad daylight.
There have been some landmark haunted house movies – The Haunting (1963), The Legend of Hell House (1973), and Poltergeist (1982), to name a few. Terrified (Aterrados in Spanish) ups the ante by not only dealing with a haunted house but an entire neighborhood of homes in Buenos Aires.
The film starts with a couple discussing a very suburban kind of problem: a noisy neighbor. The wife is also hearing threatening voices coming from her kitchen’s drain. After a conversation with her husband over the sounds, she leaves to use the bathroom. It’s at this point that the husband begins to hear thumping from the neighbor’s house. As the thumping increases, he becomes more annoyed and heads off to investigate. But what if these sounds aren’t coming from next door?
Because this is a horror movie, as a seasoned audience, we’re conditioned to start playing out typical horror movie scripts in our minds.
Writer/director Demian Rugna frequently pulls the narrative rug out from under us, thwarting our expectations and spinning his story off into new directions. One of the most interesting twists on the haunted house story happens when some paranormal investigators enter the neighborhood to study the phenomenon. Funes (Maximiliano Ghione) is a police officer with just a few days left until retirement but also with a heart condition.
Walking a fine line of his own between life and death, he reluctantly accompanies them. At one point during this long, frightening evening Funes asks an investigator how the ghosts can be stopped. We expect a neat solution that, if pulled off, can resolve the problem. “If we do this and that then maybe we can put these spirits to rest.” Instead, the investigator replies: “You can’t.” Then he goes back to studying them. His attitude is closer to a thrill-seeker or a voyeur than a scientist. If true, then this puts everyone involved, especially Funes, into greater danger.
Any “ghosts” in this story may not be spirits in a traditional sense. One explanation is that they are some kind of malevolent beings that are always present but can’t be seen directly. They’re only visible at special times, or if you look at them in a certain way, like one of those 3D pictures that resolve into a hidden image if you stare long enough.
The film’s story is not so much a linear narrative as a series of scenes linked by location and characters. Experiencing it is like moving through a haunted house attraction. You pay $25 to enter a room meant to scare you in a particular way, go through it, then move on to another which tries to spook you in a totally different manner. Let’s go into the haunted library, and then the butcher’s kitchen, and next the torture cell… In Terrified we have the thumping scene. Then the bedroom scene. And then the dining room scene. Some may find a movie made up of a loosely connected series of scenes without a lot of backstory frustrating, as the whole doesn’t really add up at the end. But the peaks in frights on this trip make it worthwhile.
If you choose to visit Terrified’s neighborhood, get ready for real chills and some of the most unsettling visuals in modern horror.
I saw this film as a midnight movie at Fantastic Fest. You can see it too on Shudder starting October 11. Check out some other movies we recommend on Shudder. While you are at it. Just follow this link for a free 30 day trial. You can catch all of their really great Halloween programming.
Nick has been a long-time contributor to Signal Horizon. He is a fan of horror, crime, sci-fi, and weird books, movies, tv shows, and music. He was on the board of the Zombie Scholars Academy where zombie tropes were used to teach middle and high school students about critical thinking, apocalyptic narratives, and survival skills.