Fantastic Fest Review: When Evil Lurks
Powerless in the face of hellish evil and earthly bureaucracy
By Richard Whittaker,
1:50PM, Wed. Sep. 27, 2023
Demián Rugna's Terrified, a prize-winning smash at Fantastic Fest 2018, contains one of the most eerily disturbing scenes in recent cinema history, a moment involving an unwanted guest at a dinner table. His follow-up, When Evil Lurks, confirms that the Argentinian filmmaker knows exactly how to get under your skin.
The first step is to make that skin as stretched and bloated as possible. That's what happens to the Rotten, the poor souls who become vessels for the demonic forces that corrupt the land. But that's the kind of thing that happens in big cities, not in the tiny rural community where brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez) and Jimmy (Demián Salomon) scratch a subsistence living.
It's not that possession doesn't happen at all, it's just that it doesn't happen in their backwater. That's a defining aspect of When Evil Lurks, and something it shares with another FF selection, the hyper-minimalist Falling Stars. Both place ordinary people in farming communities in the path of supernatural malice: but where Falling Stars found its terrors in what is unseen, When Evil Lurks is uniquely grisly. Rugna's Rotten – all decay and pus, bedsores and corruption - are trapped within their already-dead bodies, hosts to whatever will finally emerge. They're hosts to a parasite, and the brothers understand that the only way to end an infestation is to burn the crops or flee the scene.
Inevitably, the brothers are utterly ill-qualified to stop the disease. This is, after all, a professional job, but the government either never got word or just ignored that their neighbor has been tending to her possessed son for the last year. Rugna uses this to explore how such communities are often abandoned by bureaucracy, left to fix their own problems and then suffer the consequences. Their spiraling desperation as the menace expands - quietly, chillingly - and threatens to swallow up Pedro's wife and estranged kids is given extra tension by Rugna's cold and measured presentation. He doesn't run at the nightmare but lets it come to you, and he's one of those rare directors for whom the reveal is as shocking as the tease.
So if Terrified stuck its claws in audience skulls with that macabre and disturbing scene at the dinner table, When Evil Lurks has its equal in one moment on a road. When Jimmy drives slowly to a woman carrying a shapeless burden, it's spine-chilling. When her load is revealed, it's both terrifying and heartbreaking. That transition and combination is Rugna's signature, and When Evil Lurks writes that in broad, memorable, suitably upsetting but utterly captivating strokes.
Fantastic Fest Screening
Wed., Sept 27, 2pm