Eye For Film >> Movies >> When Evil Lurks (2023) Film Review
When Evil Lurks
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
A hundred years ago, if you had said to the average educated person that humans could easily go extinct within a few generations, they would have looked at you as if you needed to see a doctor. Today, doctors are amongst those stating it as fact. Along with adapting to that, we have needed to adapt to the potential for such paradigm shifts. Fiction writers wishing to explore existential threat have had to become a lot bolder in response to this. Demián Rugna’s latest film does not shirk this duty. It’s the end of the world, our protagonists are reminded at the start. The implication is that hey should stop complaining. The things they have witnessed don’t make them special.
That’s as may be, but nobody fully accepts disaster on such a scale until it’s on their doorstep. For the brothers, Pedro (Ezequiel Rodríguez) and Jimmy (Demián Salomón), the first sign comes in the night. Shots are fired – a revolver, not somebody hunting. They wait until morning to investigate. What they find will shock most viewers, even in the context of a horror film, but their relatively calm response to it is telling. Death is a part of life here, and not just because they’re farming folk. What they find in a neighbour’s house is still more monstrous, and what the woman who lives there tells them provides the first real clue to what these people are living through and how it is affecting them.
The concepts of plague and possession have often been intertwined in history, but this is a theme which, curiously, cinema has largely neglected. In Rugna’s hands it not only makes for an unusual and compelling story, but it provides a means to explore what it takes to respond effectively to disaster on this scale, and how difficult – almost inhuman – that is in the demands it places on individuals. Not because they have to contemplate killing. The idea that almost anyone can be driven to kill is something cinemagoers have learned to accept easily enough. Here it is the opposite. In the context of this spiritual plague, this outbreak of possession, the use of any kind of violence opens one up to infection, and potentially exposes one’s loved ones to the same danger. The only people with a hope of surviving are those who can find other ways to respond to the horrors which they are confronted with.
These huge themes and the dramatic events which emerge from them are more unsettling because everything else is carry on around them in much the same way as usual. The police are lackadaisical and prefer to let big problems sort themselves out. The local landowner has no sympathy for his tenants and is aggrieved at the thought of the bureaucratic troubles he will have to deal with if anything happens on his patch, enlisting the brothers to literally dump the immediate problem elsewhere. Jimmy develops a plan to collect his family and get them out of town until the danger is over, but they don’t want to go – his wife, Sabrina, has her own priorities, and a new partner, and a restraining order. His oldest son, Jair, struggles to cope at the best of times because of his autism; Jimmy clearly loves him, but one wonders if this contributed to his neglectful behaviour in the past.
This existence may not be idyllic, but it feels very much like the real world. Whilst the brothers picker, pigs and chickens go about their business, unconcerned. The wide landscape has a beguiling, amnesiac beauty, the sky streaked blue and yellow as dusk falls. There’s a similar bucolic innocence to a shot of a plump black bullock keeping pace with the brothers’ car, until one remembers that, in legend, the Devil is said to assume such a form.
When Evil Lurks is not necessarily more gory than the average horror film, but its whole ethos is different, making it much more deeply uncomfortable to watch. In particular, there is violence against children which many viewers will find hard to stomach – and yet it is neither gratuitous nor overplayed, showing us only enough to make its point. Evil begets evil and there is no salvation for the innocent. If some people can resist corruption, they may not be the ones you expect, and it’s not clear that they have much of a future either, as the investment in refraining from violence which makes community living possible gives way.
Well acted all round but often most impactful when simply observing, the film carries us from a carefree existence made possible by not paying attention, to a crushing tragedy. In doing so, it frames our own world as a paradise of sorts, on the brink of being lost. For all that it implies rites of exorcism, it is not much concerned with religion, but with a more ancient and fundamental moral contract. These ideas are built into its framework no more intrusively than the ‘rules’ famously discussed in Scream and eagerly assumed by fans of any number of horror subgenres – but the challenge they pose runs a lot deeper, and will haunt viewers, like the awful suffering of the characters, long after the film is over.Reviewed on: 07 Oct 2023