THE STORY – The residents of a small rural town discover that a demon is about to be born among them. They desperately try to escape — but it may be too late.
THE CAST – Ezequiel Rodriguez, Demián Salomon, Luis Ziembrowski, Silvia Sabater & Marcelo Michinaux
THE TEAM – Demián Rugna (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 99 Minutes
Heads up, sickos. If you’re looking for an uncompromising, no-one-is-safe horror movie that’ll make you squirm, “When Evil Lurks” is the film for you. This Argentinian horror film from director Demián Rugna conjures up the sort of unsparing evil that humans have been hiding from since we fled to the caves. Rugna’s camera is unafraid to show the worst consequences of brutality, brought to life by some of the best makeup effects seen on film in quite some time.
Set in a remote part of Argentina, an agrarian village suddenly finds itself in the grip of a demonic entity that infects living things and turns them into violent shells of their former selves. A pair of brothers (Ezequiel Rodríguez and Demián Salomon) are thrust into the middle of a battle with this unseen and unpredictable enemy, with the lives of their loved ones consistently under threat.
The two brothers at the film’s center are brought to life by a capable pair of actors. Demián Salomon plays Jimmy, the more hotheaded of the two. Salomon wisely leans into his anger-fueled energy, often reflecting on what the audience might be yelling at their screens, insisting they take the more instantaneously satisfying action rather than fully thinking through the consequences. Pedro is the more methodical of the two brothers, played by Ezequiel Rodríguez. He invests Pedro with a desperate quality while doing his best not to rush into action without forethought. Rodríguez makes it very clear that Pedro knows best and easily gets the audience on his side, even when he’s doing seemingly unhinged things like abducting his children or stripping down in his ex-wife’s dining room. The film’s ensemble as a whole operates on a uniform wavelength of fear. Everyone has a frantic and hurried sense of terror, making it even more believable that a reckless malevolence is bringing chaos into their lives.
There’s been a mini-trend in horror lately to try and shock audiences by preying upon the most vulnerable, especially children. “When Evil Lurks” does just that, but with a greater purpose beyond merely upsetting viewers. The otherworldly entity terrorizing the characters is a brute force of nature, almost like a natural disaster, and as such, anyone or anything that comes in its way is a potential victim. One scene involving a dog is particularly horrifying and effectively brings the audience into the distressed head of the main characters by forcing us to feel as helpless and despairing as them. The violence carried out by the “rotten” (as the spirit is called by some characters) is often quick and simple, which has the effect of making it feel even more true to life in the way that horrible events happen before we even have the chance to realize what just happened.
The film begins with a bang (literally – the first noise heard is a gunshot), and there is little reprieve from the evil that’s, well, lurking. At times, it can be a bit hard to keep track of the specific methods and signs of the monster, with the film using a mix of show and tell to demonstrate how it operates. Violent events and long-winded instructional monologues are used in almost equal measure to inform both the characters and the audience. This has the effect of occasionally making things a bit confusing, but that reflects how the characters are feeling about their situation as they learn on the fly. The possessive spirit that tears through the world of the film is one that the more elderly characters are familiar with. The brothers’ mother even has a nursery rhyme that she teaches her grandchild to help him remember the rules to follow when dealing with it. And, boy, are there lots of rules, ranging from logical to strange. (Apparently, one should avoid using electricity if they want to survive.)
How well the makeup and practical effects work to physicalize the film’s invisible antagonist can’t be understated. Early on, we see a horrifyingly disfigured and clearly unwell man who’s been possessed for a year. It’s a gnarly and upsetting sight, and it’s essential to establish the dark power that the characters will be facing for the rest of the movie. The makeup that encases this actor is both disgusting to look at and so impressively done that those with a love of film craft will want to pause the movie to investigate further. Smartly, the film doesn’t overdo it – this isn’t a “Dawn of the Dead”-style movie with hordes of undead and infected victims filling the frame. The relatively small number of corrupted human bodies only makes them even more startling when they do show up.
“When Evil Lurks” is a bleak depiction of a world without good, where dark forces delight in bringing as much despair to people as possible. “Churches are dead” is a repeated line. Demián Rugna’s nasty film effectively makes audiences feel as if hope is pointless and horror is inevitable.