Possession horror gets a gory refresh in this audacious Argentinian shocker rich with folklore and unflinchingly brutal set pieces.
Two brothers, Pedro and Jimmy, uncover a bloated human tumour known as a “Rotten” being harboured by a frightened family in their remote Argentinian village. The experienced “cleaner” dispatched to kill it using the appropriate rites of exorcism has been hacked to bits in the woods.
Left to their own devices the brothers decide to ignore the crucial protocol and drive the putrefying body miles away to put distance between them and the despicable. However, the plan goes horribly wrong and they unleash a wave of evil that spreads like wildfire perverting and maiming everything they hold dear.
Demián Rugna‘s follow-up to the popular Aterrados dives headfirst into the possession genre with gleeful menace. Confident and classy it combines over-the-top eruptions of ultra-violence with intricate world-building and character development to create a rule-based scenario of rampaging wickedness.
What really sets it apart from its possession peers though is the rejection of tired tropes in favour of idiosyncratic rules of engagement and the innovative modus operandi of the despicable entity itself. Sure there is pea soup puke, in this case, it weeps from a pustulated mouth rather than a projected fountain, but no contorted spasms, warding crucifixes, spinning heads, or floating above-bed cliches here.
Instead, there is a set of sacred commandments to obey to ensure survival and more importantly containment of the malicious demon. They range from the relatively conventional concept of not showing fear, to the frankly bizarre edict of not utilising gunpowder in any way. The most important of them is never to harm the evil, especially not to kill it without applying the correct cleansing methods first. Should this happen the entity will transfer to another human vessel with lethal consequences.
As for the methodology of the unholy monstrosity, it is cruelty personified. Once infected, its new victim will endevour to butcher the thing they most love. It is a savage dynamic of perpetuation with heavy viral connotations not lost in our post-pandemic times. The film’s bold originality is showcased best when the supernatural shitstain strives to usurp an autistic boy but struggles to enslave his neurodiversity. It’s a neat twist, sneakily executed in plain sight that proves ultimately chilling.
As the brother’s kindly mother states, ‘Evil loves children and children love evil’ and indeed the “Rotten” is even able to mind control a small army of Lime-powdered Midwich cuckoos. It should be noted here that When Evil Lurks gives no quarter in terms of child violence and has no qualms about giving them the same blood-splattered slaughterdom as the adults.
What’s more, the “Rotten” can transfer through animals too, a talent that orchestrates two jaw-dropping moments of gnarly barbarity, one of which ravages its way straight into the horror hall of infamy.
Of course, all this means the demon is desperate to be put to death, look out for the stoically suicidal goat, and goads our protagonists mercilessly with action and words. Neither Pedro nor Jimmy is the sharpest axe-head in the woodshed and much of the film is them panicking and dragging all and sundry into the gruesome orbit of their escalating clusterfuck.
Like all great horror films When Evil Lurks taps into real-life issues and caustic themes to burrow under the skin. It draws bitter inspiration from the poisoning of Argentinians through exposure to systemic herbicides, illuminating it through the prism of Greek tragedy and injecting demonology into hidden suffering.
Rugna has a darkly humorous imagination that drives his desire to unsettle viewers for his own amusement. However, he is also a smart social commentator. In his hands, the roots and accouterments of rural folk legend are not just a convenient conduit for creeping terror, but also a cracked window that looks into the role indoctrination plays in fascist doctrines.
Stylistically speaking the film is not afraid to introduce comedy, even farce, into the misery and carnage. Rugna fully comprehends the rhythmic parallels between comedic timing and shocking horror and exploits this angle beautifully. It’s masterful how he lulls the viewer into a false sense of security before unleashing powerful punch lines of pure revulsion.
This abusive marriage between mirth and malignance highlights the influence Sir Peter Jackson exerts on the mischievous mind of Demián Rugna. Not his blockbusters or Beatlemania but his much earlier anarchic work such as Bad Taste and Braindead. Just like Jackson, Rugna is ruthlessly compelled to share the twisted mental imagery that pollutes his psyche devoid of compromise or moral compass. It’s exactly this stubborn streak of artistic oversharing that spurs his film from generic to genius.
As such, he is just the creative force the genre needs to counteract the damage done by soulless Blumhouse yawnfests and lazy vanity projects that cling to the hull of the good ship horror like crusty barnacles.
When Evil Lurks is word-of-mouth horror cinema personified. No doubt it will attract remake attention and even less doubt any mainstream treatment will strip away the character, ferociousness, and nuance in order to bastardise the narrative creativity.
Ridiculously entertaining despite its dogged allegiance to sickening violence it’s a rabid horror flick with a bite radius to match its ambitious bark.
Possession Thriller,Folk Horror | Argentina, 2023 | Cert. UNRATED | 100 mins | SHUDDER | Dir. Demián Rugna | With: Ezequiel Rodríguez, Demián Salomón, Silvina Sabater
When Evil Lurks is now on Shudder and Amazon Prime