The arrival of Terrifier to streaming services in 2017 signalled that Argentine director Demián Rugna’s rare talent was about to break him into the international mainstream. Here was a director with a vicious and uncompromising sensibility, unafraid of violating taboos and slaying sacred cows. With the recent release of When Evil Lurks, Rugna has reinforced his reputation as a new and exciting voice in the horror creator’s community.
Our story begins in a remote rural setting, where brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez) and Jimmy (Demián Salomon) live in a humble cabin surrounded by farmland. One night their peace is disturbed by a series of gunshots and, on investigating, they discover the mutilated corpse of a man bearing a collection of strange instruments. His intended destination turns out to have been a nearby shack, where a horrifying scene awaits them. A young man has been possessed, his body bloated and covered in weeping sores and necrotic boils. The dead stranger was some kind of exorcist, coming to try and save the corrupted youth.
Pretty soon, the two brothers find themselves drawn into a desperate race against an evil that pursues them and their loved ones with the unswayable relentlessness of a Terminator.
What a horror fan will find immediately intriguing about When Evil Lurks are the ways in which it departs from traditional possession narratives. Possession is treated as mundane but also goes fiercely unacknowledged. Everybody knows that it exists – there are protocols in place, rituals to be observed and rules to be followed. However, nobody wants to confront it head-on. When the local police are resentful of the brothers for trying to raise the issue, the message is very much “you are on your own”.
Where other possession films can boast armies of steely-eyed priests, calling on divine intervention to shield them from the big bad, When Evil Lurks is an entirely secular affair. As characters point out within the film itself “The time of churches has ended”. Salvation isn’t coming from above. If it comes at all, it can only be at the hands of Pedro himself, and it is hard to imagine a character less suitable for the role of hero.
Pedro is a self-described coward. When he tries to save his estranged family, he only brings evil to their doorstep. Ezequiel Rodriguez’s performance is sharply pathetic. He is hopeless, depressed and full of self-loathing. The evil that spreads through his world like a virus is a perfect foe for him, preying on his imperfections, exploiting his fears and goading him for his cowardice. Those who fall prey to the infection seem to retain their memories, and are able to use these to turn emotional screws with precision.
When Evil Lurks fits comfortably into the category of extreme horror. Director Demián Rugna crosses boundaries with such a casual air that you wonder if he was ever aware of their existence. The unflinching depictions of gore are brutal. However, what is perhaps more gut-wrenching are the ways that Rugna plays with the audience’s expectations, offering hope before snatching it away in the most shocking ways he can. Taboos are broken throughout, and the resulting experience is not for the faint of heart.
Above all, what Rugna conjures here is a sense of utter inevitability. Despite the film’s frantic pace, the overwhelming sense is that the evil stalking our protagonists rolls towards them slowly and deliberately. On a Halloween where a big-budget possession horror is already on offer, When Evil Lurks is the discerning viewer’s choice.
How to watch: When Evil Lurks premieres on Shudder on October 27.