'Terrified' Review: Meet The Argentinian Horror Film That Will Make You Sleep With The Lights On [Fantastic Fest]

"Is there anything we can do?" His words tremble as officer Funes stands bleeding, quickly losing his grasp on reality in front of a paranormal investigator. As quickly as the word "no" escapes her lips, a monstrous hand violently reaches out from the wall and breaks her neck.It's this kind of hopelessness, fear, and quick shock value that drives director Demián Rugna's film, Terrified, full-throttle with its viciousness. Utilizing a group narrative structure that translates as an urban legend filled with multiple supernatural encounters, Terrified is an astute addition to the horror genre that strategically plays with tropes like a seasoned puppet master.Unlike other haunted house stories, Terrified spans a supernatural surface area with paranormal activity occurring in three separate homes on a small neighborhood block in Buenos Aires. Each house experiences its own kind of terror and unique haunt. Audiences are first introduced Clara (Natalia Señoriales), a young woman who hears voices coming from her kitchen sink. Very reminiscent of scenes from It, she tries to explain the experience to her husband, Juan (Agustín Rittano), who casually dismisses her claims of human voices telling her they are going to kill her. Annoyed by a recurring thumping noise and assuming its origin stems from his neighbor, Walter (Demián Salomón) who is remodeling his home, Juan goes into the bathroom to investigate only to find his wife suspended in mid-air, her body violently banging back and forth against the blood-splattered tiles.Meanwhile, next door, Walter is trying to capture the being that sneaks out from under his bed at night, while across the street, a grief-stricken woman mourns the death of her son – that is, until he returns from the grave to visit her. After being interrogated by the police, three paranormal investigators agree to assist and tackle the supernatural entities that plague the neighborhood.The storylines smoothly weave together and each house's experience feels like its own separate film which could easily serve as a television series or anthology. Every haunting plays out like an urban legend, a story kids will whisper to each other around a campfire with a flashlight glowing under their chins. The folklore elements, the lack of resolve, and the special effects are where the film really shines. There is a sense of impending doom with each character either embracing, neglecting, or using comedy to alleviate the ghostly presences. The paranormal investigators aren't so much interested in evicting the unruly spirits, but rather studying them to learn more about the other side. There are no Catholic priests yielding crosses as shields against evil in this neck of the woods, as the investigative approach is more logical and scientific than religious. Instead, it's simply accepted that these creatures exist and it is their job to diffuse their hostility by discovering what they want, while simultaneously being mindful of how the common citizen will react to such occurrences if they are exposed.Several elements of the film play into stereotypical horror tropes and have subtle callbacks to other films within the genre. Corpses returning from the grave allude to Pet Sematary while the investigative team of paranormal psychologists will evoke nostalgia for Poltergeist and The Conjuring. The interconnectedness of the houses are reminiscent of Takashi Shimizu's Ju-on: The Grudge, and the motif of water summons memories from other J-horror films like Dark Water. While there are ample jump scares, they are crafted in a manner that evoke dread and efficient frights without being too predictable or saturated within the story. Special effects designer Marcos Berta constructs creepy creatures that will surely conjure nightmares for some viewers. Utilizing a mix of practical effects makeup and CGI, his creations lurk in the shadows and crawl through the cracks like the best of them. Coupled with an impaling sound design, the visual aesthetic of the film arouses tension throughout that is only alleviated with comedic one-liners from officer Funes (Maxi Ghione), a hypertensive policeman who maintains a sense of frantic unease throughout the investigation.Rugna delivers on the scares and justifies the title of his latest feature. Winner of Fantastic Fest's Best Horror Film, Terrified knows exactly how to make your skin crawl. Simply put, that is the film's primary focus as there is minimal explanation or backstory as to what causes the horrific events on screen to emerge. Rugna serves up raw, visceral entertainment with special effects serving as the cynosure of the film while bypassing character development and plot. Part love letter to its horror movie predecessors, part uniquely crafted spooky tale, Terrified is a gory and gruesome gem that solidifies its spooky real estate within the genre we all know and love./Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10