Just in time for Halloween comes Argentine shocker When Evil Lurks, a nastily blunt and mostly effective picture deploying an escalating series of demonic possessions as a metaphor for contagion, community distrust and questionable parenting. Modestly scaled yet pungently atmospheric, it has enough tension to keep you feeling uneasy, and queasy given its highly convincing gore show effects.
Eschewing possession film cliches (the sort which the recent The Exorcist: Believer indulges) like rotating heads, split pea projectile fluids, lapsed faithfuls and religious rituals, the movie takes off on a rattling piece of visceral horror, made frightening in isolation. Somewhere in the Argentine countryside live brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez) and Jaime (Damian Solomon), disturbed on the discovery of a mutilated corpse.
The trail leads to a hideously bloated, death’s door rural shut-in named Uriel, who must be seen to be believed, and who is either suffering from a long untreated medical emergency or, as the brothers suspect, a “horrible,” vernacular for a demonic manifestation. Such a possession is easily capable of spreading, and the bothers enlist the help of a local farmer (Luis Ziembrowski) to dispose of the body, which of course goes missing en route, unleashing all manner of hysteria.
Taking a lurid cue from It Follows (and many a zombie picture), up and coming horror film director Demian Rugna cranks up the pace as the evil quickly spreads from neighbor to friend to family and even to animals, affording a striking stare-down moment with an infested goat and a family pooch that turns brutally vicious. Fleeing with the kids (including an autistic teen son well played by Emilio Vodanovich) and their aged mother (Isabel Quinteros), the brothers set out to locate the missing Uriel and eliminate the source of the mass possession. This trek is built on an escalating series of gory set pieces including a pregnant ex-wife turned marauding demon against her adolescent child, a school full of deceptive students harboring the evil and a kindly woman (played by the excellent Silvia Sabater) in possession of a mysterious instrument with the power to destroy it.
Rugna crafts a film of seriousness and despair rather than a “fun” horror picture. While When Evil Lurks may not quiet qualify as “elevated horror,” it uses its premise to get at something fatalistic about where the world may be headed, a bleak overthrow of family and community bonds consumed by a sadistically insinuating force. This is the story of many a great horror film from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Dawn of the Dead, but Rugna give it an effective spin. And his supremely gross and very believable make-up design, often seen in terrifying close-up, is truly special.
When Evil Lurks has a few tedious stretches and could be tighter (and shorter), but its merits in putting a new spin on an old genre are clear and effective.