Decent scares are hard to come by, but Demian Rugna’s Terrified is a sure-fire bet for even the most hardened of viewers. Making its premier at this year’s Frightfest, Argentinian writer/director Rugna’s third feature film is a 2018 stand out and a savvy twist on traditional hauntings.
Kicking off with a confrontational bit of poltergeist activity, Rugna plots a sleepy suburban neighbourhood full of ghastly apparitions. A young man is arrested after his wife is savagely battered to death by an unseen assailant, an old man is convinced an ominous presence is hiding in the walls of his house, whilst a mother’s recently deceased little boy returns home to sit in haunting silence.
The edge in Terrified comes from the quick introduction of experts who believe the antagonists and want desperately to help. No time is wasted convincing doubting Thomas’s, or trying to get everyone on the same page, instead Rugna gleefully throws his distressed homeowners and supernatural experts into a crazy whirlwind of terror where no one is safe.
As a concept, there’s little jaw-dropping genre-busting in what is essentially a haunted house film, but the simple choice to set the story on a haunted street, across multiple houses, complicates proceedings. Suddenly (Rugna establishes the threat and its scope in a grizzly prologue) the film has more to offer, more directions to take its ghosts, and ghost hunters, down. Parallel stories, vignettes into one long-term haunting, allow for subtle but highly effective frights.
Point of view plays heavily into Rugna’s approach to its scares: an apparition could be totally invisible until seen through the correct window or from the correct angle, things appear when they want, and experts are woefully unprepared for any of it. It’s a film which is aware of the audience’s peeves in the supernatural genre, and the abundance of decent ghost stories, so doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. More importantly it doesn’t bother getting worked up about frights we’ve seen before, Rugna has a stack of jump-worthy moments and he ain’t precious about any of them. That quickfire, almost dispensable, approach to scares is one of Terrified’s best and worst features.
In the end many folks will be irked by the laziness of the story and how quickly things end. For a film so finely tuned to scaring its audience, it’s a shame Rugna doesn’t offer a more satisfying narrative or more intriguing characters. The lack of narrative depth helps the film unleash an unrelenting stream of boisterous scares, but few of them will outlast the credits. Still its a crowd-pleaser.
Dir. Demian Rugna
Stars. Ariel Chavarria, Maximiliano Ghione, Norberto Gonzalo, Hugo Halbrich