Halloween is over and all that remains is leftover candy. As 2018 winds down, the best-of lists will come into sharper focus. Though I haven’t yet produced a best-of list for horror films (I will at some point), I am certain that I will include the Argentinian film Atterrados/Terrified, one of this year’s most visceral and chilling films that no one is talking about.
It’s easy to see why Terrified was overlooked. 2018, like its predecessor, had a lot of mainstream horror hits and box office success, including Hereditary, A Quiet Place, and the rebooted Halloween. While those films were all great in their own way, 2018 proved that indie and foreign horror films like Revenge and Terrified bode well for the future of the genre. Director and screenwriter Demian Runga’s film pays tribute to the genre with callbacks to staples such as Pet Cemetery and The Grudge, while creating unique visuals and set pieces that are nightmareish and warrant sleeping with the lights on.
Set in a Buenos Aires neighborhood, Terrified follows three neighbors who are besieged by the paranormal. The first narrative focuses on a wife who hears voices in the kitchen. Shortly after dismissing the wife’s fears, the husband witnesses her body levitating mid-air in the bathroom, banging against the shower walls, leaving streaks of blood. This early set piece and disturbing visual sets the tone for the remainder of the film.
The middle of the film contains the most developed and haunting story. After a little boy is hit by a bus and his mother is left to grieve, his corpse returns and sits at the kitchen table before a bowl of cereal and a glass of milk. As paranormal investigators and an ex-cop try to make sense of the situation, the camera zooms in on the boy’s rotting, decayed flesh. The viewer is left wondering if the boy moved on his own. Are the dirty footprints the boy’s, or do they belong to a mother so grief-stricken that she dug up the corpse of her son? The physical manifestation of grief is why the film’s middle narrative is the strongest.
As the paranormal disturbances increase, there are no Ed and Lorraine Warren-type characters to solve the problem. Even the paranormal investigators and police officers view the situation in a rational fashion, deciding it best to rebury the corpse and be done with it. This is where the film breaks from The Conjuring, Poltergeist, and other demonic/haunted house type films. No one comes to save the day, essentially. The cops and paranormal investigators don’t try to defeat the evil. They merely accept it and try to resolve it, even if that means weighing down the corpse of a boy with cement so he can’t claw his way out again.
Terrified follows a less traditional narrative structure than most films, and at times, it feels like an anthology. The only connection between the characters is that they share the same neighborhood. No explanation is given for the evil, and yet, somehow the film works without it. The first story is a full-throttle assault on the senses, and from there, the viciousness and scares are unrelenting. Terrified is one of 2018’s must-see horror films.