Aterrados (dir. Demián Rugna, 2017) – Strange events occur in a neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, leading to suspicions of the paranormal.
Light on answers but heavy on tension, Aterrados presents some tautly strung scenes of terror that successfully conjure the fear of the dark.
Not many can leave a screening of Aterrados without realising their fear of the dark, and of things that go bump in the night. The paranormal takes on a thickened sheen of terror through the lens of director Demián Rugna, whose survey of the genre has paid off in full.
The tense opening makes clear that the title is its intent. A terrified Clara (Natalia Señoriales) tells her husband Juan (Agustín Rittano) about the threatening voices she hears, coming from the kitchen pipes.
He dismisses her, but soon hears knocking against the walls himself that very night. The sceptic in him would have blamed it on the neighbour. Only that the latter is away, and the noise seems to be coming from inside the house.
Unsettling imagery that follows, startles. Aterrados knows exactly how to horrify, coupling mundane sounds with the worst of our imagination. Director Demián Rugna must have seen his fair share of J-horror and paranormal film, their influences coming through strong in his taut 90-minute chiller.
This homage is no weakness. The familiar elements escape trite presentation in Rugna’s perfect craft of atmospheric tension. Means of jump scares are rarely used. Instead, the threat of lurking shadows and nightmarish creatures adeptly heighten our instinctual dread for what is bound to come next.
One such striking scene sees a recently interred child sitting at the end of the dining table, his debilitating corpse conjuring unease with every drip of the mud. The camera lingers upon his rotten face and fragile fingers, as though scouring for the littlest movements.
Yet he remains still in silence. Suspicion even points towards a human act by his grieving mother. That is until the detective turns away for a second, leaving an unwitting young witness to see his head turn so ever slightly, a subtle motion that truly rattles nerves.
It is a shame that most of the victims fail to make an impression, before going the way of all the earth. For those looking for answers, you are also unlikely to leave satisfied. The paranormal investigators at the centre of the case find none, only offering vague perspectives as to who or what haunts the neighbourhood.
Locale is the only tenuous connection that ties the collection of modern urban legends together. But its well-crafted scenes lift this Argentinian horror high above the recent slew of Paranormal Activity and The Conjuring spin-offs. Favouring inspired scares over plot, Aterrados achieves a purely experiential chiller as intended, immersive and contained in all of its taut 90 minutes.