starring Maxi Ghione, Elvira Onetto, Norberto Gonzalo, George Lewis
written and directed by Demián Rugna
starring Sofía Del Tuffo, Marta Lubos, Pedro Merlo, Victoria Carreras
written and directed by Gonzalo Calzada
by Walter Chaw Demián Rugna's Terrified is as if the ghost-hunter sequence in Poltergeist were the entire movie and instead of the one house, the entire street were haunted. It is, in other words, a lot of fun. The picture opens, as these things must, with paranormal shenanigans, which in this case involve spectral voices coming out of the kitchen pipes, leading to one of the great shock reveals in recent memory. Really. It's a kill so radically cool and unexpected that it's at once horrible and deliciously uncanny. Simultaneously, a next-door neighbour seems to have gone missing and in flashback we see what's been happening to him. Then the son of poor single mom Alicia (Julieta Vallina) gets run down in the street before showing up a few days later, black from rot and stinking of the grave, to sit quietly at the dinner table. I love the image of this horrible corpse seated in a sunny dining room while everyone stares at it. You can see the gears turning. And then its milk spills and I almost stood up and left. These abominations trigger the ex-cop living with Alicia, Funes (Maxi Ghione), to join forces with a trio of elderly academics--Jano (Norberto Gonzalo), Albreck (Elvira Onetto), and Rosentok (George Lewis)--to stake out the three houses in the hope of figuring out what's plaguing this quiet suburban street.
Though it bears a superficial resemblance to Poltergeist and the Insidious films, what Terrified reminds of most is Mike Flanagan's tremendous, underseen Oculus, about a house, siblings, and a haunted mirror. Something about the lawless carnage that is the result of its surrealism; something about its themes of perception being at odds with reality; something more about how completely and sympathetically its heroes, especially poor, high blood-pressured and half-deaf Funes, are drawn. Clearly a student and fan of horror, Rugna's images are primal. There's a thing under the bed, you're not imagining it. Something that shouldn't be is looking at you from across the room through that crack that appeared in your wall one day. And your partner down the street is telling you to watch out for the thing standing in the next room, but you're facing that room and you can't see it. The first event in the picture is so transcendently strange and startling that it obscures a bit the art of the police interrogation that follows. A grieving husband (Agustin Rittano) is given a stack of crime-scene photographs to examine but, naturally, he refuses. "I've seen those already," he says. He was, after all, in the room as it was happening. But the pictures aren't of his wife. Terrified is brilliant sleight-of-hand work about the impossibility of knowledge, real knowledge, in the face of the Beyond. The scholars offer theories, unpack sophisticated equipment, and aren't afraid of their subjects. In the end, alive or dead, they realize that the only appropriate reaction to evil is not curiosity, but revulsion and, yes, terror. There's a lesson in there for the United States in 2018: there's nothing to understand. Even if you were right, it would bring you no wisdom and proffer no sanctuary. Some deplorable truths are intractable and unresolvable.
Like how nun movies, for instance, will more than likely have some baby stuff in them, given the Church's long, dirty history of hiding atrocities in the name of controlling female sexuality. In another film from Argentina, Gonzalo Calzado's kind of awesome Luciferina, the nun in question is nubile novitiate Natalia (Sofía Del Tuffo), self-exiled these last two years to a convent to escape her unpleasant home. News of her mother's death sends her back, though, to discover an attic full of disturbing paintings done in her blood, and her father wrapped in bandages, the harvest of his final conflict with his now-late, once-possessed (it seems) wife. Natalia's fallen sister Angela (Malena Sanchez) greets her with recriminations, marks on her arms, and a confession that she's had an abortion in her absence. Their friends, meanwhile, including Angela's abusive thug of a boyfriend, Mauro (Francisco Donovan), seek answers to some big questions in hallucinogenic drugs, and on a secluded island a shaman (Tomas Lipan), operating out of a nunnery that was abandoned because Satan decided to live there, promises to send them on a spiritual quest to answers. Alas, one should be careful what one asks for of shamans in abandoned nunneries.
The obvious metaphor is for a young woman's sexuality asserting itself after years of systematic religious oppression. There's a scene shot sensually like the shower-rape fantasy that opens Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill where Natalia begins to masturbate in a shower, which Calzado interrupts with Natalia's discovery of three cockroaches in the tub. Subverting this image is a sequence immediately preceding that uses violent sex as the film's exorcism scene. If that bit is lot like Ken Russell's The Devils on the scale of sacrilegious imagery and ideology, the rest of the picture is more like the lush, gauzy, dream-logic films of Jean Rollin, rife with eroticism and mystery. Luciferina is a slow burn with a couple of lovely horror moments that only really stutters when it offers up unnecessary jump scares and an extraneous villain in a movie that's already about Satan. For a sense of it, consider that the main hero of the piece is a midwife; or that a sequence established in a nightmare in which the mother, in cruciform, sneaks up on Natalia like a monster in a traffic-light game is echoed three times during the course of the picture to introduce a mother surrogate and then the father as well. Trinities matter in Luciferina, of course; there are other threes in this first of a proposed trilogy of films, each dealing with a different virgin one presumes beset by demonic attention (aren't they all?)--indicating that Luciferina is, if not perfect, at least the product of a plan. Just like we sinners in the hands of angry gods and demons.