Oh, no, no, no: that doesn’t necessarily mean that they disagree with what I might have to say. Rather, the issue has always been that they’re long argued that I’m too hard on so many flicks. I think the sum total of their minor complaint is the usual trope – “it’s only a movie” – which somehow implies to me that it’s okay to have imperfections, it’s acceptable to be occasionally nonsensical, and it shouldn’t matter than not everything add up to a big finish. I’ve always countered that I do have a solid list of productions I watch solely to be entertained, but we – as people – should never relax our standards so far that we accept or elevate a C-graded effort to B-movie status – nor should we recognize B-movies as the best Hollywood has to offer – so it’s perfectly tolerable to expect storytellers to hit a homerun with each and every time at bat.
Will they? Can they? Must they?
Of course not, and therein lies the beauty of the experience.
Pushing others to do better is part and parcel of crafting not only better art but also a better society. By elevating all boats, everyone benefits. Yes, yes, and yes: we’ll endure something less than perfect because it won’t be achieved every time. Yet, we should never expect less. That usually only puts us on the road to mediocrity, and no one likes being average.
This is precisely why I’ll champion a film like writer/director Demián Rugna’s When Evil Lurks (2023) every time I see one. While it has imperfections here and there and – as something that required a heavy amount of world-building to craft this visual and cerebral Horror – it might come up short on a few levels, it still achieves an incredible atmosphere on rugged, sometimes bare-bones performances. It introduces audiences to a time and a place that they should truly be frightened of even though they may not grasp all of what’s at play and at stake. When it stumbles, then it’s a glorious failure … and who wouldn’t want to be part of something glorious, eh?
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“In a remote village, two brothers find a demon-infected man just about to give birth to evil itself. They decide to get rid of the man but merely succeed in helping him to deliver the inferno.”
Pedro (Ezequiel Rodríguez) and Jimmy (Demián Salomón) are brothers who one night hear distant gunshots on their property and go exploring the next morning to find out who might’ve trespassed. When they find a fully dismembered body – along with a briefcase of a curious instrument Jimmy vaguely recognizes – they check up on the nearest neighbor (a wellness visit) in an act of kindness. To their surprise, they discover that the elderly woman’s oldest son has turned into one of the feared ‘The Rotten.’ Swollen to grotesque proportions and covering with rashes and boils, the victim has been possessed by a form of evil that – if unleashed – will infect humans and animals alike as well as put a curse on the land on which they all live.
When they realize that they’ve no way to have the young man properly “cleaned” of this entity (the suggestion of an exorcism but something we learn to be a bit more complex), the brothers join forces with another neighbor in transporting the bloated human carcass miles away. However, when they arrive, they’re shocked to discover that the contaminated has vanished – perhaps having rolled out of the truck bed – and is on-the-loose. With no other course of action, they return home to take refuge, fearing that the worst is yet to come as this unpredictable source of evil is likely going to be delivering Hell on Earth for those it can debase.
Can I just say: “Wow.”
I went into When Evil Lurks completely blind to it, never having even seen a coming attraction or reading deeply into the provided advertising materials that came to via a distributor relationship. In fact, I only saw that it was a Horror, scanned the materials enough to know what I was loosely getting into, and was stunned with just how mesmerizing Rugna crafted the whole event. Bluntly, it is a slow-burning thriller – the script approaches both its mythology and methodology with a randomness that never quite serves the film as effectively as it could – and yet I was pleasantly surprised as the resulting ambiguity never hurt the forward momentum nor got in the way of enjoying one dark chill after another.
Still, I’d be a fool if I lied. I did want more answers that what I was given; and – after the ride had stopped and I had stepped out of the carriage – I was disappointed that I didn’t understand more of what I had just shuddered my way through. But because everything came off without a hitch, I’ll easily forgive all involved. It’s rare that – at my old age – I’m left asking for more, especially when it comes to thrillers and chillers of this variety. Though I enjoy Horror films immensely, I’m rarely moved by them. What can I say? It’s just how I’m wired.
And yet this one left me hungry for another visit … just like its featured Evil.
When Evil Lurks (2023) was produced by Aramos Cinema, La Puerta Roja, Machaco Films, and Shudder. A quick search of Google.com shows that the film is available theatrically nationwide as of today’s date. As for the technical specifications? Incredible! While I’m no trained video expert, I found the sights-and-sounds of this Spanish-language production to be seriously top-notch. A good deal of it – thankfully – is some in-camera trickery, the type which this old dog loves. As for the special features? As I was invited to stream this online, there were no additional materials under consideration.
I tried to be clear above that – though I didn’t quite understand all the pieces in motion – When Evil Lurks was one of the finest, visceral frights I’ve experienced in quite some time. Its central premise – though a bit nebulous – made just enough sense to keep me invested. Its shock moments – though reasonably sparse – were very good. Its building sense of doom-and-gloom – though mildly predictable – was smartly delivered. No imperfection or the lack of perfect clarity kept me from having a wonderful time with this film; and I highly recommend it to folks who want to see something uniquely different in the field of demonic possession. It ain’t perfect … but it’s sometimes scary as Hell itself.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Shudder and Machaco Films provided me with complimentary streaming access to When Evil Lurks (2023) by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.