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'When Evil Lurks' Is a Great Film and a Tough Watch
HOLY $%@!, this movie is DARK.
Sickening, merciless, graphic, and grim, the new Argentinian horror film When Evil Lurks is not for the faint of heart, the weak of stomach, or the delicate of disposition. It traffics in a level of explicit gore so depraved it’s usually reserved for movies that have little on their mind beyond scandalizing the audience. What makes writer/director Demián Rugna’s fifth feature so extraordinary is that it also has something meaningful to say about the modern world. Literally and metaphorically, it cuts down to the bone.
The movie’s premise melds demonic possession movies with zombie apocalypse movies in a way that I’ve honestly never seen before. It’s set in a world suffering from an epidemic of possessions. There are no more churches, because the entire population has completely lost faith in God, and the only people who can stop the possessed - colloquially known as “The Rotten,” because they make Regan projectile vomiting in The Exorcist look like Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” by comparison - are governmental “Cleaners,” who are not as reliable or even available as one would hope.
In fact, combatting The Rotten is almost impossible. You can’t shine any electrically-generated light on them, because it empowers their shadows; you can’t touch them, because they’re infectious; you can’t kill them, because it will make you the next target evil spirit inhabiting the body; hell, you can’t even allow yourself to be afraid of anything, because if you are, they will sense it and see to it that you suffer this very fate (“If you’re afraid of falling into a hole, they will open a hole beneath you,” one character warns). But they are relentlessly SADISTIC, prone not only to stomach-churning acts of violence, but also to all the psychological torture movies have trained us to expect from devils in human form. They WANT you to kill them, and will press your most tender buttons to try and provoke you into doing so.
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Think about that for a second. You have to suppress the fear of someone you love dying because if you don’t, they will probably die. And when they do die, it will be at the hands of someone else you love, who will then surrender themselves to you and dare you not to extract revenge or take measures to ensure they don’t do go after whomever you have left. How hard would it be to stop yourself from crossing that rubicon?
This is the horrid environment in which we meet brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez) and Jimi (Demián Salomon). They live deep in the woods, away from any danger… until the oldest son of a nearby neighbor becomes one of The Rotten. Unable to get help from the proper authorities, they seek the aid of a nearby landowner, who convinces them to transport The Rotten to a location hundreds of miles away and leave it there so that it becomes someone else’s problem. Surprise, surprise - all does not go according to plan, and shit gets really, really dark in a hurry.
When Evil Lurks wasn’t submitted to the Motion Picture Association; if it had been, it would surely be rated NC-17. No character is safe, no demise is painless, quick, or bloodless, and almost every death is shown on screen. And unlike, say, the recent Dark Harvest, these deaths often feel appallingly real.
Salting the wound is the fact that Rugna’s execution (pardon the pun) is masterful (I haven’t seen the filmmaker’s other work, but When Evil Lurks made such an impression on me that I plan to rectify that immediately). Even when you know that something gruesome is about to occur, he manages to time it in such a way that you’re not quite prepared. I think most horror fans agree, at this point, that jump scares are lazy and cliché, but there’s one in this movie that straight-up made me shout involuntarily. I don’t mean to give the impression that When Evil Lurks lacks fun (gore hounds like myself live for this kind of boundary-pushing murderousness), but I wouldn’t recommend it for John Q. Public.
Make no mistake: Rugna wants to shock the audience, and to take them to extremes most movies will never touch.
But that’s not ALL he wants to do.
As a symbol, The Rotten can be interpreted a number of different ways; the most obvious reading would be that they represent COVID-19, but they could just as easily be climate change, the world’s trend back towards fascistic forms of government, or the toxic nature of social media. And the characters in When Evil Lurks feel as authentic as the brutality. When they make choices that are selfish or stupid, those choices still feel recognizable. Be it the brothers’ “it’s not our problem” attitude or a man’s insistence that the possessions are a government conspiracy or a woman’s denial that The Rotten are truly a threat they’re said to be… we’ve seen these people in our world, refusing to get vaccinated, insisting that there’s nothing happening to the planet’s environment, and actively voting against their own self-interest. We don’t have to worry about The Rotten in the real world, but nonetheless, the tragedy of When Evil Lurks is the tragedy you’ll find deeply relatable.
That When Evil Lurks is an assault against the spirit as much as it’s an assault against the senses is what elevates it above other recent taboo-breaking horror movies like The Human Centipede, A Serbian Film, and Terrifyer (and I say that as a total sicko who earnestly enjoys at least two of those movies). I think most general audiences will find it nightmarishly gross and oppressively bleak, but it’s a must-see for hardcore horror aficionados. Happy fucking Halloween, you goddamn deviants.