Movie Review: TERRIFIED (ATERRADOS)
In my review of Don’t Knock Twice, I knocked it for being a “Stuff Just Happens” horror flick, while also noting that this is not an automatically negative sub-type of horror. To support this, I referred to the Argentinian flick Aterrados (Terrified), which is very much a movie where “stuff just happens.” It’s also amazing.
Essentially a series of scary vignettes loosely connected by more of a premise (or series of premises) than a fleshed-out plot, Aterrados is not remotely interested in a satisfactory explanation for any of its goings on. At least, not according to the English translation available on Netflix, which admittedly has a couple of obvious errors that call the entire translation into question, at least as far as context goes. It’s possible there are fine details we’re missing here in the English-speaking world. I doubt it, though. And if I’m wrong, I’m mostly sure I’d prefer never knowing those details. With my most recent viewing of Aterrados–my third–I’m falling increasingly in love with it.
It helps that I watched with two people who’d never seen it before, and who’d have never heard of it had I not brought it to their attention. It definitely enhanced the experience, watching them squirm and gasp and cringe at all the right moments, and hearing them ask all the right questions (chief among them, “What the hell is going on?”, “What the hell are those things?” and “What am I watching?”). I can’t find a word better than “glee” to describe my emotions hearing one of them ask that first question before the movie was more than a few minutes old.
Aterrados gets into its supernatural insanity early and doesn’t really let up. It piles one horrific scenario on top of another and then another, trading out one potential protagonist for another and then a third and then a fourth, and it even shuffles between subgenres of the supernatural. It feels like a haunted house movie, but it’s also a monster movie, and also a psychological horror flick, and also a…what would you call it? “Inter-dimensional demon infestation” film? Let’s say that.
While it is a “stuff just happens” movie, it isn’t really a surreal, absurdist or dreamlike horror film. This isn’t in the same category as something like Fulci’s The Beyond where part of the objective is clearly to make no real narrative sense. This feels more like two storytellers got into a “scariest opening act” contest, kept one-upping each other, and their third friend, the judge, said, “What if we just pieced all of your ideas together, gave it a basic through-line and filmed it?”
What else can I say of this film? It’s well-acted. It’s well-directed. It comes in several different flavors of unsettling. It features a creepy undead kid spilling milk at the lunch table, strange lanky other-dimensional humanoids that are somehow pulled into our world through water (?!), and multiple fates that are wildly worse than death. All of which is a bunch of stuff that just happens with nothing close to a definitive explanation, rhyme or reason, and I say that as a compliment. It is a film committed to exploring the entertainment value of keeping the unknowable unknown.
Final Verdict: Halfway to Halloween is around the corner, a fitting-enough time for me to induct this into my Halloween Season Pantheon. This is about as good as a “Stuff Just Happens” popcorn horror flick gets.