Written by: Matt Patti | October 25th, 2023
When Evil Lurks (Demián Rugna, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.
Argentinian writer/director Demián Rugna is back at it again. Rugna thrust himself into the limelight with his paranormal horror film Terrified, which won Best Picture in the “horror features competition” at Fantastic Fest in 2017. He returned to America’s largest genre festival this year to debut another spooky flick, When Evil Lurks.
When Evil Lurks follows two brothers, Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez, Legions) and Jimi (Demián Salomón, also Legions), who live in a remote village. One day, they find a man who is possessed by a demon. In an attempt to save their neighbors, they decide to drive the man out of town and dispose of him. However, their actions cause a ripple effect that spreads throughout their entire community.
In this specific film, possession is treated like a sickness. It is easily spreadable and poses a real threat not only for a small household of individuals, like in many films involving spirits, but for an entire area. The film plays out like a zombie plague but with a paranormal twist on it. The spirits seem to move from living thing to living thing faster than a virus, though, raising the stakes significantly. Demons also tend to be much smarter and creepier than the typical zombie, leading to more terrifying results.
Rugna wastes no time getting right into the central subject of the film, as we are promptly introduced to the first possessed person, who looks more like Jabba the Hutt than a human, at this stage. After Pedro and Jimmy dispose of him, the after effects begin almost immediately and the viewer is treated to a thrill ride that doesn’t let up until the very end.
Even with such fast-paced chaos, Rugna still makes time for emotional moments and quality drama between characters. Rodriguez’s Pedro is a compelling, layered protagonist who has done many questionable things in the past but in the present is simply trying to save his family. His skeletons in the closet are brought to light several times throughout the film, leading to intriguing scenarios and further fleshing him out.
Also included between the high-stakes battles with evil are intriguing rules about how to properly handle possessed people and ward off demons. These aren’t your typical rituals you’ve seen before; instead Rugna introduces some very original ideas. The fresh and new methods add another layer of charm to the film before these scenes descend into madness.
The one aspect of When Evil Lurks that sticks with the viewer most after watching is undeniably the grotesque imagery and brutal depictions of violence. There is one scene in particular that has replayed in my head over and over since my first viewing a month ago because of how shocking and disturbing it is. Rugna does not hold back with his visuals and some images may end up staying in your mind for quite some time.
Unfortunately, the next most memorable aspect of the film is its bewildering ending. I can’t quite put my finger on what the last 20-30 minutes of this film are trying to convey, but it is certainly creepy and strange. There’s also an unnecessary twist thrown in which doesn’t accomplish much.
When Evil Lurks has some other notable issues in an otherwise enjoyable work, as well. There are a few major conveniences that take place to move the plot forward that are somewhat unrealistic. Technically, the film suffers a bit with some instances of poor VFX during kills and below-average SFX that don’t always hit at the right moment. It’s quite baffling to me that some violent sequences are so masterfully done, while others seem very glossed over and rushed to the point of subpar results.
In the end, When Evil Lurks is a possession film that is quite different and original in an otherwise tired genre. The way director Demián Rugna treats possession as a sort of biological horror akin to a zombie plague is a refreshing take on an otherwise clichéd area of scary movies. With this approach, Rugna is able to move the film along at a much quicker pace than most paranormal flicks, introduce disturbing and memorable imagery, and make the threat as a whole feel more imminent and consequential. All the while, Rugna is still able to give enough time for character discovery and development while balancing thrills and chills, making for a unique hybrid action-horror adventure.