Horror, like any genre, is beholden to certain tropes. A well within the genre that’s been run into the ground is the possession sub-genre, to the point where trailers for a new Exorcist film are eliciting eye-rolls instead of the desired terror. Repetition of the same beats from possession films ad nauseam is to blame. To reinvigorate the possession movie, you need a fresh voice. Argentinian filmmaker Demián Rugna (2018’s Terrified) is the man to make this long-stale division of horror scary again in the positively wicked When Evil Lurks.
Finding a horror movie, let alone one in an oft-tired sub-genre, that’s genuinely terrifying shouldn’t be as hard as it is given the over-saturation of the market. And there’s an abundance of films that certainly hold decent creep factors. Nevertheless, When Evil Lurks breaks the ceiling into a whole other level of fear. Defiantly crossing several lines even the most twisted of films in the genre wouldn’t dare step over, and coursing with a helpless, hopeless feeling, When Evil Lurks has the makings of a new high-mark for horror, for those who can stomach it at least.
[Warning: spoilers from When Evil Lurks are below!]
A rotting spreads in When Evil Lurks from Demián Rugna
Brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodríguez) and Jimmy (Demián Salomón) make their rounds keeping the peace in the Argentinan countryside. Strange happenings, most recently the discarded bottom half of a body being discovered, plague the people. Upon visiting an elderly woman, they may have found the answer to what’s behind all of this: the son of the family, bloated and covered with boils, puss, and all manner of nastiness, has been corrupted, or “rotted” by evil. In other words, possessed, on the verge of giving birth to an entity of pure evil. Pedro and Jimmy do their best to mitigate the threat, but their actions lead to the evil spreading in a way that they simply may not be able to outrun.
Demián Rugna‘s direction frequently impresses. As Pedro and Jimmy try to get further and further away from the evil, it’s omnipresent, following them everywhere they go. Under the grit and grain of Mariano Suárez’s cinematography, each image more so than the last seems to be built to ratchet up the inescapable doom. A possessed goat pressing a shotgun to its own head to “release” what’s inside of it, a catatonic boy suddenly gaining the ability to move for unknown purposes, the host of evil itself, or one of the many acts of self-mutilation the film involves makes the blood run cold.
It’s difficult to make a film where each scene is the springboard for an “out of the frying pan into the fire” situation. With more than an ample amount of nightmare fuel, Rugna decides that the best way to go about telling this story and still keeping it scary is starting from 100. This furthers the tension by inventing new ways to spread that evil.
One of those ways is by constantly shifting up the rules. Oftentimes, the lore of how the evil spreads can’t really be pinned down. Frequently, this can make for a frustrating, or even annoying, experience. But then you notice how much you’re leaning forward, how much the film is getting in your head. And by that point, you’re as much of a kite dancing in a hurricane as the lead characters.
A horror film with relatable fallibility
One of the aspects that makes When Evil Lurks as effective as it is is the realism of its lead characters. Pedro, no matter what, seeks to protect his family unit. His wife has a restraining order against him for his erratic behavior, but he still attempts to rescue everyone from the encroaching shadow that looms. In another film, this might be frustrating. Ezequiel Rodríguez radiates such a sense of urgency that one can’t even be bothered to question his motives. We have seen the evil that Pedro has seen, and we know what it can do.
On the other hand, Demián Salomón as Jimmy is a twitchy, ready-to-pull-the-trigger type who jumps at the latest sign of unease. He’s like if you handed a nervous person who’s seen way too many horror films a gun. In another film, these two characters would be incredibly frustrating, but due to the “all is lost, save what you can” atmosphere of When Evil Lurks, it’s almost impossible not to just go ahead for the ride, never questioning for a second if you’d act any differently than these characters.
When Evil Lurks gives us grim overload
It must be pointed out that When Evil Lurks isn’t for everyone. Demián Rugna maintains an atmosphere that is downright oppressive. Several taboos are broken. Men, women, children, and animals are all free game here, dispatched with reckless abandon. It’s entirely fair to hear that, get disgusted, and not be remotely interested in checking out the film.
For those who feel they’re equipped for it When Evil Lurks defiantly brings to life a vision of pure evil unlike any other seen before. It never stops, features full commitment from everyone involved, and keeps coming up with new ways to mess with the sanity of the audience. Not in a long time has horror felt so dangerous.
If you’re looking for an unrelenting descent into Hell, then beware of the temptation of seeing When Evil Lurks this Friday in limited theatrical release or later this month on Shudder. It’s an experience you can’t take back.
My rating for this film
When Evil Lurks arrives in theaters this Friday and later in October on Shudder. Is this scary movie on your to-watch list? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.