Synopsis: The residents of a small rural town in Argentina discover that a demon is about to be born among them and desperately try to escape — but it may be too late.
Stars: Ezequiel Rodriguez, Demián Salomon, Luis Ziembrowski, Silvia Sabater, Marcelo Michinaux
Director: Demián Rugna
Running Length: 99 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Earlier this month, director David Gordon Green and Blumhouse attempted to work their trilogy reboot magic again with The Exorcist: Believer. However, unlike their 2018 Halloween, which benefitted from a clever hook that even enticed scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis back, this was an uninspired continuation of a franchise that never called out for the same kind of refurbishment. While it took Green and his collaborators two Halloween sequels in 2021 and 2022 to sink their once seaworthy ship, their first chapter of a proposed Exorcist trilogy didn’t even make it out of port.
Released on the same day as The Exorcist: Believer in a tiny number of theaters and making its streaming debut on Shudder on October 27, right in time for Halloween is When Evil Lurks, a far superior tale of demonic possession and the effect it has on a community gripped with fear. After generating good notices in its pre-release festival run (it was one of the Midnight Madness showings at TIFF that I balked at the last minute, unable to make it my seventh movie of the day), this intense supernatural horror film from Argentinean writer/director Demián Rugna could be 2023’s cruelest form of entertainment. Still, it would be a mistake to miss it.
In the dark of night, brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez) and Jimmy (Demian Salomon) hear shots at their secluded farmhouse in Argentina but are wary of investigating the neighboring forest until the sun rises. When they venture out the next day, they find a horrific scene that leads them to a neighboring farm and discover that one of the inhabitants has turned “rotten” (their term for possessed). In this land, there are rules for dealing with the rotten that must be strictly adhered to, or else whatever evil has taken over the host will likely reach out and snare the offender.
Hoping to relieve their people and the vicinity of an evil manifesting outwardly through grotesque skin and other bodily deformations in the neighbor, the brothers work with another landowner to move the afflicted to a different part of the county. As you can imagine, this only compounds the problem, and before Pedro and Jimmy know it, their friends and family fall victim to violent deaths or heinous acts of aggression through a force that no regular entity cannot stop. Seeking safety with Mirtha (Silvina Sabater), an experienced “cleaner” of the rotten, provides some relief, but only briefly because once evil has put its mark on you, it won’t stop until it has what it wants.
While it takes some time to ramp up to its full volume, the sense of dread in When Evil Lurks is festering almost from the get-go. Sure, the initial ghastly discovery that Pedro and Jimmy make is enough to make you wince, and the sight of the neighbor, oozing pus and other slime from orifices will fortify your stomach. However, when Rugna flips the switch on to truly go for the jugular, all bets are off. Much of the violence is so shockingly out of nowhere that you can’t help but gasp in horror, mainly at the filmmaker’s audacity for turning traditional norms on their ear.
When you sense blood is about to be shed, editor Lionel Cornistein mines significant tension out of Rugna and cinematographer Mariano Suárez’s well-shot visuals. What may look innocent and blithe can turn on a dime, revealing a snarling nightmare that can be hard to shake. I wound up watching this one late at night (too late) and regretted having to turn off the lights so soon after the credits had finished. It’s an unsettling movie visually and thematically, with a bleak outlook on the world that offers each life an equal opportunity to get cut down. That gives it the ability to surprise and shock in the same breath.
What The Exorcist: Believer missed out on were the lasting frights that made the 1973 film it follows such an everlasting classic. The Exorcist was scary then, and it remains scary now because it defied what audiences expected to see onscreen, throwing them for a loop. In the same way, When Evil Lurks can gnaw at your bones after burrowing through your flesh as you begin to see that, like death, it doesn’t play favorites. Everyone is prey; it’s just a matter of when and how. That’s where the true horror lies.