Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Mad, Mad World: When Evil Lurks (2023) Review [Telluride Horror Show 2023]

Director: Demián Rugna

Notable Cast: Ezequiel Rodríguez, Demián Salomón, Silvina Sabater, Virginia Garofalo, Emilio Vodanovich, Luis Ziembrowski, Paula Rubinsztein, Feerico Liss, Marcelo Michinaux


When Terrified appeared on Shudder six years ago, I would have placed writer and director Demián Rugna as THE artistic voice to watch in horror. That movie, with all its flaws, scraped my bones with its tension and conceptual horrors. Indeed, it is the kind of statement film that should have had Rugna on the shortlist to direct every horror film for any studio project. 


Although I’m sure he was on that list, he took approximately six years to release his next feature-length film. Of course, he did have a segment in the recently released Satanic Hispanics anthology film, but the man took his time dropping his follow-up When Evil Lurks. Waiting to see this effort was almost as tense as watching Terrified.

It was absolutely worth the wait.


When Evil Lurks is the horror film to beat this year. And, if I’m being perfectly honest When Evil Lurks is the kind of horror that beats up its viewers too. While its “evil entity” is treated like a biological infestation, the combination of folk horror elements within a possession film is impressively navigated. All the while, Rugna and his team deliver some of the most brutal sequences since the French Extreme movement of the 2000s. When Evil Lurks is the kind of horror film that pulverizes its audience’s nerves and stomach in all the best ways. 


If anything, the one aspect to take away from When Evil Lurks is how clever it goes about its world-building. As noted above, a combination of possession, folk horror, and a zombie-esque infection narrative propels each of its increasingly disturbing and visceral horror sequences into some ludicrous territory. 


As its main characters, two brothers (Ezequiel Rodríguez and Demián Salomón), stumble upon a family whose son has become a “rotten” by possession of a demon, the film immediately creates this sense of grounded folk horror by establishing some rules around the titular evil. ‘No electricity, no guns, etc.’ are rules seemingly known by more than just a handful of people. It’s enough so that there’s a “cleaner” sent by local authorities to exorcise the “rotten” man even when the film intentionally avoids more traditional church or religious elements in its crafting. 


When Evil Lurks so expertly drops its exposition and world-building into its plot that it barely registers, a touch so aptly executed to keep the film’s break-neck pacing that it feels natural, even when the film fully embraces a surrealistic hellscape in its third act. The performances from its entire cast, including some truly heartbreaking moments from its secondary tier of character actors, embolden Rugna’s scripting so that even when the narrative feels like it's stretching itself, it never breaks. 


Of course, while I will not spoil some of its mindfuckery of horror, what most folks will remember of When Evil Lurks are those key set pieces of terrifying violence that erupt from the continually building tension of its “race against evil” narrative structure that sees the two brothers desperately trying to outrun the demonic possession that seemingly is out to decimate their already loosely lived lives. Rugna, as he did with Terrified, has no qualms about pushing boundaries in long takes of horrific ideas or showing some intense brutality onscreen. With some incredible special and visual effects, this film toes the edge and proceeds to kick its viewers off, delivering some of the best gore of the year. And if you think any character is safe, think again. You’ll likely never again trust anyone or anything around kids or animals. That’s all I’ll say about that. 


However, if you’ve read this far, you probably know whether or not When Evil Lurks will hit your buttons. It’s often a devastating and complex watch for its intensity of tension and violence, but for those with a stomach of steel and nerves of iron, I cannot recommend this one enough. Even with its loose narrative, it punches well above its weight class and delivers one knock-out punch after another. 


Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another half of a decade for Rugna to deliver his next horror classic. 


Written By Matt Malpica Reifschneider

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