Shots ring out in the night as two brothers, living in a rundown rural home, argue about where the shots came from and worse, from who. Elder brother Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez) is clearly the smarter, more seasoned man and brother Jimmy (Demián Salomon) the more affable but together they are survivors and plan to set out at first light to find out what is going on. What they discover is a grisly murder but this scene leads to even more strange questions and merely serves to guide us further into a weird, current day world that is clearly under some kind of apocalyptic invasion.
And just like that, the audience is scooped up into confusion and excitement in Demián Rugna’s Argentinian horror film When Evil Lurks which, barring some kind of wonderful from David Gordon Green’s impending The Exorcist: Believer, is easily the best genre film of the year. And believe me when I say, I rarely dabble in predictions and hyperbole. Going forward in this review please note, I don’t mean to be coy but, specifics will be vague as the less you know about this film going in, the better. .
When Evil Lurks is extremely bleak, gross and gory but it’s also very clever in several ways including world building which occurs without the obviousness we’ve come to find in mainstream cinema. Here the films slowly plays out its hand, revealing little by little a world where we discover hell has literally risen to earth and demonic possession is kind of grafted on to a zombie apocalypse template only much, much more terrible. See, if you find an “infected” person in this world (where they are referred to as “rotten”) you cannot simply remove the head or kill the brain and move on. No, here, there are rules to getting rid of the cursed and doing so the wrong way can cause things to spread and get way worse.
As these rules are laid out for knowing when someone has been possessed, they each happen almost simultaneously onscreen and the exposition adds a level of dread to each scene. Done incorrectly and the film becomes hackneyed but Rugna does a nice job doling out the information along with the action. Adding even more dread to the whole affair is the fact that Pedro and Jimmy are your basic “everyman” so their decisions are often made out of love or haste and don’t always follow the rules, if ever. Unlike so many films which have become almost video game-like in their showing characters get from point A to point wherever with each scene playing out like a level to be defeated, When Evil Lurks drags its characters as well as the audience along with it, unsure where safety might even be found or what survival might look like.
As the rules of this hellish society unfold so too does the story of Pedro and his estranged wife and kids who he immediately tries to rescue, as any father would. Almost comedically stomach-churning gore quickly turns to well executed and downright scary moments as hell continues to literally break loose all around, the plot thickening like the pus dripping from the mouths and open wounds of the rotten. And as in any great zombie story, the underlying tension amounts to how we ourselves would react in similar situations as well as deeper, more existential ones such as, what would we do to survive in this world and is it even worth it with suffering young ones in our care?
When Evil Lurks does stumble a bit about halfway through as the idea that audiences will figure out what’s going on gives way to some exposition that feels tacked on. The early, slow reveal is what is so engaging and while some “rules” are later laid out that weren’t previously, it still feels unneeded. Speaking of, another issue is: if you’re going to lay out rules, you need to show them in action (or, being broken) and a few here either don’t come to fruition or are unclear. I should note that some of this could be due to a language issue as the film is subtitled and I have to say, the translation is frequently confusing.
But these are mere quibbles as When Evil Lurks not only satisfies the hungriest gorehound, it also brilliantly builds a world I was completely intrigued by. As the ideas played out, I often found myself thinking this would be a great series of some kind (TV or graphic novel or, both) and apparently there’s talk that that may happen.
The horror film is a well-traveled genre and for big fans of it, whenever someone can come up with something new and sustain it for a feature, it’s a good thing. If there’s ample tension, blood and guts, all the better. When Evil Lurks definitely does that with some scenes that are downright nasty both in terms of visuals and a certain meanness running through them. But, that’s ok because far too often, filmmakers pull back when they could really go all in (I’m looking at you, Talk to Me).
Last note: the fantastic Shudder streaming is releasing When Evil Lurks on October 27 but it hits many theaters Friday, October 6. This is exactly the kind of film that will benefit from a large audience as well as being exactly the kind of film that we might get more of if it is successful. In other words, get out there and support small genre films!
Shudder; Demián Rugna; When Evil Lurks movie review
– Don R. Lewis (@ThatDonLewis)