When Evil Lurks, It Wins

Ezequiel Rodríguez in Demian Rugna’s WHEN EVIL LURKS. Courtesy of Shudder and IFC Films. A Shudder and IFC Films release

When Evil Lurks is proof old ideas can be intriguingly reinvigorated. Familiar frights surrounding possession take on a whole new dimension in this horror film from writer-director Demián Rugna. Although some parts feel less terrifying than others, the emotional strain of the characters compels audiences to the conclusion. In other words, When Evil Lurks sets up scares that inspire a dark desire to see just how terrible things get.

The story centers on brothers Pedro and Jimi played by Demián Salomón and Ezequiel Rodríguez. Living in a small rural community, they discover there’s a possessed person in their area. Well aware such individuals are, for lack of a better term, infectious and will only lead to greater calamity, they attempt to dispose of the hazard. However, the brothers only make things worse in the process.

Demián Salomón in Demian Rugna’s WHEN EVIL LURKS. Courtesy of Shudder and IFC Films. A Shudder and IFC Films release.
Demián Salomón in Demian Rugna’s WHEN EVIL LURKS. Courtesy of Shudder and IFC Films. A Shudder and IFC Films release.

World building horror is an excellent part of When Evil Lurks. It establishes a reality without simply dumping information in monologues. Characters react to situations, and the ensuing dialogue highlights their awareness as well as understanding of circumstances. The possessed, referred to here as the rotten, are people suffering a gruesome fate as they turn into the supernatural equivalent of a biohazard. More importantly, this isn’t some event the community entirely doubts. Such things are familiar enough to have government procedures in place.

The horror here tends to stem from characters reacting to circumstances. Whether it’s frenzied efforts to protect family, or the infuriating inaction of government officials, there’s a resonating plausibility that makes the horror hit harder. Meanwhile, writer-director Demián Rugna smartly avoids rehashing possession clichés. There’s never an attempt to outdo or imitate other similar films, especially that most famous predecessor, The Exorcist. When Evil Lurks makes this creepy concept its own, fashioning a grim reality to torment its characters. Such unfamiliarity helps keep the audience anxiously unsure what’s coming, or nail bitingly tense when understanding this fictional world makes a scare seem certain.

This also allows the movie to explore a variety of themes. Events mainly orbit Pedro, portrayed by Ezequiel Rodríguez. He’s a fiery individual holding on to unpleasant truths which have alienated him from his wife and children. As such, When Evil Lurks becomes the story of an estranged father trying to do right by his children. However, there are also hints of a pandemic here, especially as darkness spreads from its rotten source, corrupting the world around it, especially the people.

Demian Rugna’s WHEN EVIL LURKS. Courtesy of Shudder and IFC Films. A Shudder and IFC Films release.
Demian Rugna’s WHEN EVIL LURKS. Courtesy of Shudder and IFC Films. A Shudder and IFC Films release.

The opening act is marvelous. The brothers are established in quick scenes. The nature of the horror is revealed, and a larger reality with its terrifying implications is soon established. Some of the early scenes even say a great deal without any dialogue at all.

Minor spoiler—there’s a superb instant when Pedro encounters the possessed person for the first time, and the camera briefly goes out of focus fabulously implying his own terrified disorientation. Even better is the scene when the characters Ruiz and his wife Jimena are having dinner. Played by Luis Ziembrowski and Desirée Salgueiro, neither says anything but everything that needs to be understood can be gleaned from the visuals—their tension, discomfort, and the weight of worry.

It’s unfortunate the film doesn’t maintain that level of cinematic stylization. When Evil Lurks soon falls into a pattern of characters running around in terror. For a space in the middle, mood and atmosphere take a backseat. Unsettling events still unfold, but they don’t have the same impact as earlier scares.

The overall uniqueness of the concept, though, should keep a viewer interested to the very end. There are disturbing set ups with unsettling payoffs, and the emotional toll of events is, for the most part, interesting to witness. Pedro can be a bit of a one-note hothead, and his brother Jimi is similarly locked into a single degree of stoic tension. Still, the performers do a good job of conveying people straining to stay focused as fear threatens to tear them apart.

This isn’t a particularly gory film, but that doesn’t mean it lacks gruesome moments. The rotten is a grotesque yet tragic being to behold. Some of the kills are grizzly without being goopy slop feasts. Writer-director Demián Rugna knows what to put on screen. Something he proved penning and piloting Terrified (2017). The result here is a mix of moments that either horrify by smartly implying savage violence or showing just the right amount of gore to fuel nightmares.

Performances throughout hit the right notes. Virginia Garófalo as Pedro’s estranged wife does an excellent job of being frantically intense when dealing with his unwanted arrival. And at risk of spoilers, she becomes a hauntingly tragic threat. What works best is subtle revelations through dialogue. Characters bring up things in a natural manner which expands their identities as well as backstories.

Granted, When Evil Lurks isn’t perfect, but middle of the road is better than some train wrecks. As I said, the middle slows a tad. Although it picks up again, there are some info dumps which mar the quality of the dialogue. They never derail the movie, but like a hiccup in a silent room, they become more noticeable because of better quality scenes. The same could be said of certain scares, but there are some seriously unsettling deaths that are topnotch.

Overall, When Evil Lurks is a somber supernatural tragedy. Performances throughout along with smart dialogue help build a horrifying world, frightening in its plausibility. In this unsettling reality, a refreshing new kind of possession movie unfolds. Horror aficionados looking for something new would do well to check out When Evil Lurks. However, anyone looking for a fresh fright flick will enjoy this grim movie.

When Evil Lurks torments theaters October 6th before jumping to scare on Shudder on October 27th.

Written by Jay Rohr

J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.

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