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When Evil Lurks Review

October 6, 2023 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
WHEN EVIL LURKS Image Credit: IFC Films/Shudder
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When Evil Lurks Review  

Directed by: Demián Rugna
Written by: Demián Rugna

Ezequiel Rodriguez – Pedro
Demián Salomon – Jimmy
Silvia Sabater – Mirtha
Luis Ziembrowski – Ruiz
Marcelo Michinaux – Santino
Emilio Vodanovich – Jair
Virginia Garófalo – Sabrina
Paula Rubensztein – Sara

Image Credit: IFC Films/Shudder

Running Time: 99 minutes
Not Rated

It’s kind of hard to do the demonic possession subgenre justice these days. There’s always power in the abject horror of something evil taking over the bodies of the innocent and corrupting them. However, it’s been done in so many ways and so many times at this point that it often seems like these movies are simply repaving the roads set down by better, more thrilling predecessors. Just this weekend, there’s a classic example of that hitting theaters in The Exorcist: Believer, a film that is being excoriated for failing to come close to the legacy of its predecessor.

There’s another horror subgenre that has been wearing out its welcome over the last few years: the pandemic film. While films about wide-spreading viruses are by no means limited to the 2020s, COVID understandably brought on a swarm of films that treat infection as a device for their stories and it’s thoroughly understandable if many moviegoers have become tired of them.

With all that being the case, a film in which demonic possession features as a virus has quite the narrow needle to thread. That’s what makes When Evil Lurks all the more impressive. Demián Rugna is back with his first full feature since 2017’s Terrified, and he’s upped the ante in a major way. Premiering in theaters on October 6th with a Shudder release set for October 27th, this tale of two brothers trying to stop a possession outbreak goes right for the soft spots and refuses to let go.

The film opens as brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez) and Jimmy (Demián Salomon) awaken to the sounds of gunshots outside their rural home. Investigating the next day, they find the body of a cleaner – someone who deals with demonic possession, or “Rottens,” in the woods. When they go to investigate further, they find a local teen named Uriel (Pablo and Gonzalo Galarza) has become possessed, his body bloating and corrupting to grotesque proportions. The local authorities – well aware of possession – won’t come out and help them deal with it, doubting that such a situation is occurring outside of the cities. That leaves Pedro and Jimmy to turn to their landlord Ruiz (Luis Ziembrowski), who decides to dump the boy away from them so that it becomes someone else’s problem.

Of course, this is not the panacea that Ruiz hopes it will be, and before long the infection has started to spread. Animals and people start showing signs of possession, and things quickly start to turn violent. Jimmy and Pedro move to grab their families – their mother, plus Pedro’s ex-wife and estranged sons – to try and escape and/or stop the spread of this infestation.

Rugna isn’t one to shy away from shocking imagery, and When Evil Lurks makes that clear in spades. He puts its chief demon-infested subject in full visceral display; Uriel oozes and seeps in an early scene where Ruiz, Pablo and Jimmy try to get Uriel in the back of their truck. The corruption of the flesh may be typical possession fare, but Rugna and his team give it an uncomfortably tactile sense thanks to some nasty makeup effects and a drippy sound design.

And while Uriel quickly out of sight, he’s never out of mind as the violence that results from his infection is jaw-dropping on more than one occasion. No one is safe in Rugna’s brutal world, and to say he takes no prisoners is an understatement.

That said, while When Evil Lurks has some absolutely shocking moments of brutality and gore, none of it seems gratuitous. A couple of moments are over the top, to be sure; one moment driving down a road is particularly skin crawling, for example. But each moment seems germane and even essential to what the story Rugna is telling and the world we’re seeing. The proceedings are bleak and heartless, but the violence never feels like it’s there just to be shocking.

There’s nothing particularly subtle in what Rugna is exploring here. The film speaks directly to the divide between the rural parts of the world and their urban counterparts; there is a lot of “them” laid out here, all the way down to Ruiz’s NIMBY attitude toward dumping of the infected in another location. The notion of evil spreading like a plague is fairly obvious as a stand-in as well, but the violent trappings allow the message to sink in without being hammered home. (Speaking of which, beware of hammers in this movie.)

As the film flies into its final act, the localized worldbuilding starts to fray a bit at the edges, and the film becomes a bit more conventional to its detriment. There is also an unfortunate use of non-verbal autism in Pedro’s older son Jair that doesn’t come across particularly well either. Fortunately, there’s still plenty of action to drive the film toward its climax, punctuated by some excellent performances from Rodriguez, Salomon, and Silvia Sabater as a woman who the brothers go to for help. They help even out the bumpier parts of the script and let us feel something for the characters stuck in this uncompromisingly dark tale.

When Evil Lurks arrives in theaters on October 6th will stream on Shudder starting October 27th.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Demián Rugna hits a bloody career high with When Evil Lurks, a piece of demonic horror as savage as it is gripping. Playing with the rules of possession in a way that makes it seem a bit fresher than other such films, Rugna gets some strong performances but it's the vicious tone that stands out. There are some truly gasp-worthy moments here that mix in with the topical themes for a horror experience that will stay with you for a good, long while.

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When Evil Lurks, Jeremy Thomas