When Evil Lurks (2023) Review – Fantastic Fest
When Evil Lurks (Cuando Acecha la Maldad) is the new feature film from Argentinian director Demián Rugna. Rugna assured himself a place in horror history with his film Terrified in 2017 and then vanished off the scene until his segment in last year’s Satanic Hispanics. Thankfully he didn’t make us wait another five years for something new, and When Evil Lurks premiered this year at TIFF as part of its Midnight Madness program.
Appropriately enough the film starts somewhere around midnight when Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez, Legions, How to Win Enemies) and his brother Jimmy (Demian Salomon, I Am Toxic, The Unburied Corpse) are awakened by the sound of gunshots somewhere in the woods. Going to investigate the next morning they find a body, or half of one anyway, with a strange device nearby and a notebook in a language the brothers don’t recognize nearby.
As it turns out he was a cleaner on his way to a nearby farmhouse to kill one of its inhabitants who had become a “rotten”, a horribly bloated and infected looking parody of a human. The cause of his condition, demonic possession.
When they and their neighbour Ruiz (Luis Ziembrowski, Kryptonite, The Rotten Link) take matters into his own hands they unleash the evil on the countryside putting everyone at risk.
Rugna tips us off early that this isn’t quite the world we know by the brother’s matter of fact reaction to seeing the remains of the cleaner, it’s as if this is nothing new to them. That’s confirmed when they immediately recognize the rotten for what it is. Some things are still the same, however. The town’s police and mayor, like in so many other films, don’t want to know about it.
When they tell Ruiz about it his first reaction is to claim that it’s a government conspiracy to steal his land. I’m not sure if it was intentional or a coincidence, but he actually looks a bit like Alex Jones which adds to the scene and makes the parallels to COVID and anti-vax disinformation that much clearer.
But, much like 2021’s The Sadness, it’s When Evil Lurks’s shocking violence and willingness to inflict it on, as well as inflicted by those that frequently are immune from it that will catch viewer’s attention more than its social commentary. Little children, family pets, cute farm animals, and pregnant women all figure into the bloodshed once the evil is unleashed.
While the middle section concentrates more on emotional horror, which in some ways is more frightening, as Pedro has to deal with his ex-wife while trying to get his children to safety. Once they stop at the house of another cleaner, Mirta (Silvina Sabater, Alanis, Norberto’s Deadline) the evil, and the gore, return.
While When Evil Lurks doesn’t have the sheer amount of mayhem that some other recent films have, Rugna stages some scenes that you won’t soon forget. He has considerable help in staging them from cinematographer Mariano Suárez whose many genre credits include Terrified, On the 3rd Day, and Daemonium: Underground Soldier.
To answer the obvious question, no When Evil Lurks isn’t on the same level as Terrified, but that is a high bar to set. It is a disturbing, bloody, and frightening film that manages to be thought provoking at times. Rugna has delivered an excellent film and hopefully, we won’t have to wait another six years for his next one.
When Evil Lurks made its US premiere at Fantastic Fest on September 22nd and screens again on September 27th. You can find details here. It plays at Beyond Fest on October 1st before a theatrical release on the 6th. It arrives on Shudder in time for Halloween on October 27th.