There’s only one true aim with writer/director Demian Rugna’s Terrified, and that’s to scare the crap out of you. Less of a traditional narrative and more of an experience in horror, Terrified succeeds in its goal. Set in a Buenos Aires neighborhood, strange things begin to happen. A woman hears voices from her kitchen sink, while her husband is driven mad by pounding on the wall that he shares with his neighbor. However, the neighbor hasn’t been seen in weeks, though he had been dealing with strange phenomena of his own before disappearing. When things get too creepy and weird to ignore, a paranormal doctor, her colleagues, and a soon to be retired police officer convene to get to the bottom of it all.
A lifelong horror fan, Rugna is well versed in the conventions of horror and uses them against the audience. He keeps a consistent level of unpredictability throughout by throwing many different tropes into the mix and using them in refreshing ways. The entities in Terrified are varied, and all have varied tactics of eliciting chills. He also keeps the answers of what’s happening always out of reach, which may frustrate those that prefer their horror to have clear cut explanations. The investigators at the center of the activity are there to find out what is happening and collect evidence, but they may be in over their heads. That’s more terrifying than anything.
Some horror films are lucky to nail one iconic scare moment; Terrified has at least five. The sound design is effective and chilling, and Rugna has a knack for timing in crafting the scares. More than just timing, though, is his creative use of perspective. Perspective is key both in terms of plot and in some of the scariest bits of the film. Also refreshing is Rugna’s refusal to grant any of his characters safety throughout. There’s a constant level of danger, and any of them could perish at any time. Sometimes shockingly so. Rugna also understands when to bring the levity, giving the audience moments of humor to release some of that tightly wound tension.
Of course, that none of his characters are safe also means that we don’t really get to know any of them very well. The closest we get to an audience proxy is that of Maximilliano Ghione’s police officer. He’s the bridge between the detached investigators and the confused neighbors, but as an outsider to the paranormal he’s also our entry point to this spooky world. But because of the sheer level of paranormal activity happening, Terrified plays more like an ensemble anthology as Rugna zips us through the various scares and set pieces that take precedence over character and plot development.
This nonstop barrage of scares and super creepy set pieces is the equivalent of venturing into a haunted house attraction. It’s daring, fun, and absolutely thrilling. This doesn’t offer much in the way of a fully fleshed out plot with concrete answers, but it doesn’t need to. All Rugna wants to do is make sure you’re scared, and he wholeheartedly nails it. The best part of all is that Shudder snatched this one up and is releasing it exclusively next month. Which means you have no excuse not to miss one of 2018’s scariest films.