Demián Rugna’s When Evil Lurks is a delightfully gory horror film that unfortunately can’t sustain itself beyond a terrific first half.
A godless world strikes fear in the hearts of many. The idea of our land becoming lost as evil takes hold can lead to many visions of an apocalyptic future. The thing is, no matter how prepared you are for this hellish world, no one is ready for what horrors await us. Demián Rugna’s When Evil Lurks is the tale of a godless world as the horrors of evil begin to tighten their grip on the people surrounding it.
When Evil Lurks follows two brothers, Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez) and Jimmy (Demian Salomon). When the discovery is made that a demon is soon to be walking amongst them, the two brothers desperately try to escape with their family. Only to discover that it may already be too late.
An immediate stand out in When Evil Lurks is the sheer apocalyptic feel it has from the outset. Demián Rugna directs the world of the film with a horrific sense of dread as everything surrounding it feels inches away from becoming complete mayhem. Here, the central threat in the film is one the central characters know all too well. As we’re dropped into this world of rising unspeakable evil, we do so with a wide range of experienced characters. This sense of mystery is incredibly effective here in the film’s manic first half that’s constantly on the move from one graphic set piece to the next. We may not know what’s happening but our characters do and that’s a much more troubling thought.
As well as crafting this world soaked in nihilism and dread, Damián Rugna provides When Evil Lurks with a sticky and gritty texture that applies to the film’s use of gore and body horror. Bodies here are presented as puss-filled parasites and as the film ramps up the gore, it helps greatly to craft this horrific tone that carries When Evil Lurks right to the end. It’s hard to craft graphic imagery in the horror genre due to just how many ideas have already been explored by other filmmakers but to Rugna’s credit, the film is never afraid to take things to the next level. Whether it’s child endangerment, violent murder, or other forms of disturbing imagery, When Evil Lurks, for better or worse, operates on the desire to disgust or shock as much as humanly possible.
The first half of When Evil Lurks is utterly fantastic. A manic, stressful and utterly grim display of gore and anxiety amidst the presence of an unspeakable evil taking its toll on the world around it. The flaws of the film begin to show however when the second half kicks off. Once our central characters begin to take things on the road, things begin to slow to a crawl. While the gore and tone are ever present, it becomes far too explanatory to the point of just giving more unneeded questions than answers. The mystique of the film’s central evil is completely lost but at the same time, doesn’t really give us any answers to a lot of what we’ve seen. Instead, it relies on tired and boring clichés from other horror films to get by.
As strong as When Evil Lurks is at presenting this terrifying and nihilistic world it creates, this presentation unfortunately suffers from another crucial flaw that creeps up in the second half and that is the depiction of autistic people. As someone on the spectrum myself, I’ve become somewhat used to representation leaving little to be desired and while it’s not quite as catastrophic as other recent depictions of autism on film, it still feels unnecessary and even cruel.
Here, autistic people and their minds are seen as “confusing” to the film’s demonic entities and because of this, they are unable to be possessed with the intended effect. This leads to the character feeling more like a plot device than a meaningful emotional thread we can relatably get behind. Their entire existence exists to serve the central characters of the film who either see them as broken or unholy. While the intentions here may have meant well, it’s an unfortunate chink in the film’s armour that left me incredibly uncomfortable. It’s an aspect of the film that at best is just flimsy writing and at worst, completely in poor taste.
When Evil Lurks is the feel-bad movie of the year. A relentless series of graphic set pieces that are as nail-bitingly intense as they are delightfully sinister in their presentation and energy. The problem is that it can’t maintain said energy in the second half. There are brief flashes of excellence and Rugna’s talents as a director still shine throughout but the film’s depiction of autistic people as well as its overly explanatory second half leaves the film feeling messy in its execution.
When Evil Lurks is now available to watch in select UK Cinemas and US theaters.