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Even if you don’t love “When Evil Lurks” as much as the critics, it’s not hard to see why this nasty, nihilistic film is so buzzed about.

When Evil Lurks

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When Evil Lurks, the new film directed by Argentinian horror auteur Demián Rugna, opens with a virtuosic single take. We follow two brothers, Pedro and Jimmy, as they clamber through the halls of their home, tensely preparing to investigate a disturbance on the outskirts of their property.

Like Rugna’s earlier movie Terrified (2017), When Evil Lurks places the audience into a speculative scenario and expects you to go along without too much exposition.

A testament to Rugna’s maturation as a filmmaker, When Evil Lurks certainly exhibits more stylistic flair than his previous film (the opening camerawork being just one example). But this tale of demonic contagion is also loud, chaotic, and – despite its almost episodic structure – rather predictable and not too scary.

It doesn’t quite reach the horror-inducing cosmic dread that Rugna so skillfully captured in Terrified but earns significant points for its grotesque set-pieces and its commitment to bleak fatalism. This is a movie that trusts its audience to accept a world without much hope.

One of the most successful elements of this film is the set-up.

When Evil Lurks thrusts the viewer into some kind of near-future world in which demon possession is an accepted and generally well-understood phenomenon.

What makes this so interesting is that the film – at least at first – does not bother to ponderously explain this world to the audience. Instead, you have to piece together this setting little by little based on the actions of the characters.

Near the beginning of the film, Pedro and Jimmy (played by Ezequiel Rodriguez and Demián Salomon, respectively) come upon the eviscerated body of a “cleaner,” someone whose job is to properly remove a demon from a host’s body. This leads them to discover said body – a man named Uriel, horribly bloated and rotten, living in his mother’s house.

In this universe, demons function like debilitating infections with horrendous physical manifestations, incapacitating their hosts and requiring careful procedures to avoid spreading.

Needless to say, Pedro, Jimmy, and their neighbor Ruiz (played by Luis Ziembrowski) find that the authorities are taking too long to respond, so they take matters into their own hands.

Through a series of callous missteps, our main characters compromise the demon-disposal protocols, leading to the rapid spread of the contagion. Even with the help of Jimmy’s old friend and former cleaner, Mirta (played by Silvina Sabater), the demonic plague proves extremely difficult to keep under control.

As already mentioned, When Evil Lurks succeeds by trusting the audience.

There are a handful of exposition dumps, but they thankfully don’t derail the film’s set-up.

The performances in this film are also quite good, even occasionally thrilling, with some characters reaching a fever pitch of despair that is palpable. And finally, the movie definitely caters to the horror fan’s love of practical special effects.

Though relatively few in number, the scenes of bloody gore are truly disgusting and unsettling. The filmmakers clearly spent a good deal of time and effort to make sure that these effects were top-notch.

When Evil Lurks

However, When Evil Lurks ultimately left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Despite the generally good performances, none of the characters moved me. Perhaps this is because Pedro and Jimmy are not sufficiently developed for the audience to really care about their plight. Other characters are introduced and then quickly killed off, leaving us no time to let the gravity of their deaths sink in.

Additionally, once the mystery is revealed, the film mostly stops being scary since the audience understands the mechanics of the demon and what its goals are.

This is where Terrified succeeded: the motivation of the entities is never revealed, making them all the more horrifying. But When Evil Lurks gives us an entity that has a clear – and cliché – goal.

The conclusion of this movie pulled me both ways.

When Evil Lurks

On the one hand, it totally embraces hopelessness, and I respect that choice on the part of the filmmaker. It also ends with a truly gnarly and gross reveal. However, this hopelessness doesn’t feel quite earned since it results from our main character making a very stupid decision that could have been easily prevented.

Without spoiling the ending, I’ll say that I had a hard time believing that Pedro would do what he did when he knew it would help the demon.

When Evil Lurks definitely has a lot going for it, and I would recommend it for those wanting to see how Demián Rugna’s filmmaking has progressed over the past few years.

The film is receiving a good amount of critical acclaim, so I acknowledge that my more critical assessment might be a minority position.

Even if I was not particularly moved or horrified by When Evil Lurks, at least the movie adds an interesting twist to the possession genre, setting a well-worn story in a totally unique context, making it worth watching at least once. 

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3.5
When Evil Lurks, written and directed by Demián Rugna, is streaming on Shudder. Want a second opinion? Click here to read my colleague’s review of the film. 

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