The hottest new demonic possession movie of the season has just been released. And it was not “The Exorcist: Believer.”
“When Evil Lurks,” an Argentinian horror film directed by Demián Rugna, released this past weekend to a startling 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But does the film truly live up to its high rating? The prospect of watching a Spanish-language film can often be frightening to American audiences, even without the horror element, so the film has a clear uphill battle to overcome if it hopes to draw in viewers.
The film follows two brothers, Jaime and Pedro (Demián Salomon and Ezequiel Rodriguez, respectively) in rural Argentina as they fight off a demon possessing their friends, family and neighbors. As the demon pursues their loved ones, they must seek out help from Mierta (Silvina Sabater), a former exorcist, as their last resort.
The film’s brightest moments come from its cinematography, soundtrack and performances.
From the opening shot, the wide sparseness of the Argentinian countryside fills the viewer with a sense of wonder and dread about upcoming events. The film uses these landscape shots alongside overhead shots consistently, often leaving a small, suspicious object peeking out of a corner, waiting to pop out in the next shot. In addition, the movie uses a plethora of hand-held camera shots, as is common in modern horror, to emphasize the heightened energy of certain scenes.
The film also delivers on its scares. The camera does not shy away from showing the bloody, puss-filled bodies of the possessed in all their gruesome detail. The shots are nightmare-inducing, presenting shocking actions as the characters fall further into madness. However, despite the sheer quantity of gore on the screen, it never feels gratuitous because the camera never lingers longer than necessary.
Additionally, the movie utilizes its soundtrack to create an eerie sense of unease throughout the film. While some films rely too heavily on music to create tension, “When Evil Lurks” does a tactful job of working with silence and sound to create an uncanny atmosphere.
The film boasts some strong performances from its lead actors. In particular, Rodriguez delivers a gripping portrayal of a neglectful father, blending frustration and anger with an overwhelming sense of regret. The women of the cast, Sabater and Paula Rubinsztein, who plays the grandmother, also shine on the silver screen, providing much-needed emotion and level-headedness to an occasionally discombobulated story.
The film does have some glaring flaws. In particular, the story feels half-baked. While leaving elements unexplained can draw in an audience and provoke further thought, the story of “When Evil Lurks” does not leave this impression. The audience is strung along on its journey, hoping to uncover more by the end of the film, but nothing significant is ever revealed or really even hinted at.
Throughout the film, the characters are prone to making rather thoughtless decisions. While this kind of behavior is not new to the horror genre, the extent to which these characters act without reason merely frustrates the viewer, comes across as cliche and makes for a dissatisfying ending.
But the most disheartening aspect of this film is its sense of lost potential. The movie presents some interesting themes such as fatherhood and adolescence, but the film’s message about them remains unclear. The film oozes with a sense of purpose, yet it fails to properly tell its story. Even though it succeeds in its technical and performance aspects, the writing leaves much to be desired.
While “When Evil Lurks” had the potential to add a new twist to the horror genre, it is ultimately unable to deliver anything new. Nevertheless, it still serves as a gripping watch for true horror fanatics.