An Argentinian anthology film based on urban legends and confronting inner demons, “Terror 5” is unique gene fare that’s as baffling as it is fascinating.
First-time directors Sebastian and Federico Rotstein use a local political crisis in Argentina as the backdrop to the five stories that unfold to horrific conclusions.
Few films have left me at a loss like Terror 5 did.
Initially, it left me feeling ambivalent. It’s not lacking in any technical sense – well shot, well-acted – and it’s definitely not boring. I also didn’t get it. At all. Still, I sat with it for a couple of days (and a couple of abandoned attempts to get my thoughts on paper), and I think I know where I stand. I still don’t get it. At all. But I also can’t forget it and can’t deny it’s had an effect that can’t be ignored.
I see it as a horror-tinged variation on one of those sprawling, ‘we’re all interconnected’ stories – Short Cuts, Magnolia, and the like – although it’s much more concise than either.
Verbose plot summation is the antithesis of good critical writing but there’s no way around it with Terror 5. So here we go: Over one night in an unnamed Argentinian city, a guy and girl have a flirtatious rendezvous in school after hours while teachers are being (willingly, I think) tortured; a dysfunctional couple is enjoying a tryst in a hotel where they’re being watched from behind a two-way mirror; a group of young adults is having a house party, watching a snuff video, and tormenting one of their number for being a virgin; two guys sit in their respective parked cars, plotting to swap girlfriends (that comes from the IMDB synopsis. I must confess to having no clue what they were up to).
Meanwhile, the trial of several prominent citizens accused of negligence in a vaguely defined fatal mishap on a construction site is wrapping up, and much of the population is tensely awaiting a verdict.
It all leads to a zombie invasion of sorts when the victims of said mishap rise, their eyes aglow, reminding one of the leper ghosts in John Carpenter’s The Fog. This may be an attempt at class struggle commentary, though the revenants seem as keen to devour anyone else as they are the mayor and other patrician defendants.
The other storylines are equally resistant to analysis and, despite the earlier comparisons to Altman and Anderson, mostly don’t even seem to relate to one another in any way beyond location, although snuff comes into play in the hotel story as well as the party.
Despite this ultimately incomprehensible combination of surface elements, I simply can’t shake Terror 5.
It reminded me of some of my more fevered nights in the dream realm: random, disconnected, frequently unpleasant images and events that don’t congeal into anything substantial enough to grasp and leave an unsettling aftertaste. It does a good job of creating a world that is, not unlike the real one at its worst, dark and seemingly irredeemable.
Terror 5 continues to resonate for me on a subconscious – even primal — level. I feel I need to see it again, but I’m not sure I want to. Not because it isn’t good, but because I’m a little afraid to revisit it and re-experience these strange feelings. And in that sense, it is something remarkable.