Back in 2018, writer/director Demian Rugna came screeching out from under the bed with his film Terrified. But if you think that vicious haunter messed you up, you haven’t seen anything yet. Rugna’s latest feature, When Evil Lurks, is one of the gnarliest horror films of the year.
Set in a remote Argentinian village post an event that has left God deemed dead, we meet brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez) and Jimmy (Demian Salomon). After hearing gunshots in the woods, they discover a demon-infested “possessed”. Fearful that the evil residing within the man will spread through their village, they transport him far away from town. The pair think they’ve rid themselves of the malevolent entity, unaware that all they’ve done is help set free an inferno of terror.
Musician turned filmmaker Rugna comes from a background of heavy metal, and that bent towards the extreme powers through When Evil Lurks like a ferocious ballad. It’s just moments before Pedro and Jimmy discover a chopped in half body within the fog-choked woods, intestines spilling out onto the dirt. Seconds later, they come across a victim of demon infestation, looking like a Bloater from videogame “The Last of Us”, flesh covered in pus-filled tumors. And this is only the first few minutes. The beginning of what becomes a long, terrifying journey for the brothers and the audience alike.
See, Rugna has no qualms with crossing lines (as those that have seen Terrified can attest). When you sit down to watch one of his films, you have to go in expecting that no one is safe. No taboo too sacred. That’s what makes When Evil Lurks such a heart-pounding experience. When you have no way of knowing how far a filmmaker will go, that’s when horror is simultaneously at its most thrilling and nerve-wracking. The director assures viewers that they cannot, will not, be able to anticipate what happens next. With this knowledge, Rugna drags audiences to the edge of their seats, fingernails scraping helplessly at the fabric. More than a few times, I found my eyes pulled wide like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, in shock but unable to look away. This film is a ruthless beast with one “holy shit” moment after another.
A unique possession horror movie peppered with shudder-inducing nastiness and unflinching violence, When Evil Lurks plunges viewers into the very heart of darkness where evil is at its most pure. Sinister dread percolates around the edges of every frame as we bear witness to the most mocking of evils. What Pedro and Jimmy face is a supernatural presence that does not play around through one-hundred minutes of devastation. The type that laughs in your face while it holds up the decapitated head of a loved one (not an actual thing that happens, but you get the idea).
An evil that spreads like a disease with far-reaching consequences, When Evil Lurks quickly evolves from what starts like your average possession film into an all-out plague of terror working its way through the town. Fully aware of genre conventions, Rugna inverts the usual tropes and turns them against the protagonists. In this world, there are seven rules that must be followed, including never saying the demon’s name. Usually, that works as hocus pocus magic in an underwhelming banishing of the thing. Here, it spells certain doom. Some of the rules come off as arbitrary, such as electric lights attracting the evil, but hey, it’s a nice excuse to have an atmospheric fire lighting night scenes in what is a film full of breathtaking imagery. It’s a good thing that the film is as frightening as it is, because it keeps the audience engaged even as characters make a series of frustrating and nonsensical choices that break these rules in an effort to drive the story along.
Convoluted as it is, the lore that Rugna weaves does begin to tear at the seams and leave the audience in the dark. The director drops us right into this universe where characters know of the possessed with little to no explanation of what happened before the camera starts rolling. You could perceive that as a knock, but I actually see it as working in the film's favor in this case. After all, our scariest dreams are that way because there is no rhyme or reason to them. When Evil Lurks plays like our most paralyzing of nightmares. That inability to understand exactly what’s going on or how the evil works is part of the terror. Is this an excuse for a flaw in the writing? Maybe. But that doesn’t make the film any less effective.
Featuring a heart-wrenching performance from Rodriguez as the broken man at the center of this gruesome story, Rugna’s latest is not for the faint of heart. But if you enjoy your horror a little more hardcore, then by all means. Sit back and get ready for a ride through absolute hell.
When Evil Lurks creeps into theaters October 6th from IFC Films, followed by a release on Shudder October 27th.
By Matt Konopka