By Bob Grimm
Most mainstream horror movies released this autumn have been a real letdown (Saw X, Five Nights at Freddy’s, The Exorcist: Believer)—with goofy, would-be horror following the same old beats with jump scares and all-too-familiar plotting.
But lo and behold, AMC and Shudder are currently streaming a movie out of Argentina that avoids such lousiness and resets the horror genre—specifically, the possession movie. While The Exorcist: Believer was mundane, When Evil Lurks is the kind of possession film that will smack you sideways and permanently scar you.
This thing is brutal—to which I say, “Bravo!” I mean, somebody kills themselves by repeatedly striking their own face with an ax—and that person isn’t even possessed, just freaked out and preferring to leave the planet rather than hang around for the demonic badness about to happen. You’ll be freaked out, too.
Two brothers who live in the middle of nowhere, Pedro and Jimi (Ezequiel Rodriguez and Demián Salomón), discover a body cut in half near their home. They then visit another home and discover that their neighbor has a problem that makes the chopped-in-half guy look like a kittens’ tea party. That neighbor is going on and on about somebody being “rotten” in her house—and sure enough, there’s a swollen, puss-filled, contorted, wheezing man stinking up the bedroom. The neighbor warns the brothers about fussing with the rotten person (certain rules must be followed when dealing with a clearly possessed individual), but the men ignore her and throw the guy in the back of their pickup. This—and I’m not spoiling too much here—leads to very bad things.
Things spiral out of control from there, with local authorities refusing to help with the rotten guy (they seem to know it’s a hopeless endeavor), and Pedro’s ex thinking he is crazy when he shows up raving that she must pack up the kids and hit the road. Sadly, most folks fail to listen to Pedro and Jimi, and the demon starts to pollute the countryside. There are occasional characters who try to help out and provide sage advice, but this is not a movie where people respond to reason. Everybody messes up, and the consequences are dire.
While writer-director Demián Rugna has made something very unique, the unrelenting horror owes a lot to the original The Exorcist, John Carpenter’s The Thing and the original Evil Dead. The outlook for everyone involved is bleak; nobody is safe in this picture, and Rugna keeps upping the ante on what horrible things can happen to those who don’t follow the rules. Actually, those who do follow the rules are also screwed in this movie, contributing to its sense of apocalyptic terror.
Everybody plays terrified well, especially Rodriguez, who basically disintegrates before our eyes during the film’s running time. If you can’t handle movies where bad things happen to kids and pets, stay away from this one. Some movies aren’t interested in presenting optimism or glorious redemption through survival. This is one of those movies that seeks to fuck you up, old-school, and it more than succeeds.
It’s also shot extremely well. Rugna and his crew strike the right tone visually, with a killer soundtrack and editing that never resorts to cheap scares and routine horror gags.
I imagine I will return to this movie and watch it again someday—on a day when, for some odd reason, I’m OK with a movie making me extremely uncomfortable. That might be a couple of years from now, though; I need a recovery period.
When Evil Lurks is now streaming on IFC+ and Shudder.