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TIFF ’23 Review: ‘When Evil Lurks’ is a different kind of possession movie

‘When Evil Lurks’ is a spine-tingling horror picture that succeeds in overt and understated scares.

A scene from ‘When Evil Lurks’
A scene from ‘When Evil Lurks’ courtesy of TIFF
A scene from ‘When Evil Lurks’ courtesy of TIFF

‘When Evil Lurks’ is a spine-tingling horror picture that succeeds in overt and understated scares.

It’s said the Devil takes many forms, thus physical manifestations of evil have taken many shapes on screen, from innocent-looking children to hideous creatures, from talking animals to charming men. It’s a concept that exercises the imagination as one contemplates the most effective and most probable appearance of a corruptor. There are a lot of factors to take into account, including culture, location, history, faith, age, etc. But regardless of the configuration, the common thread is nothing good occurs in their presence. When Evil Lurks demonstrates the consequences when a demon is foolhardily released in a remote Argentinian village.

In a town on the edge of nowhere, the residents felt they were insulated from “the rotten,” an evil that possesses a person and corrupts their body from the inside out. But an overnight disturbance brings to light the existence of an infected in their midst. Anxious to prevent the evil from spreading, brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodríguez) and Jimmy (Demián Salomón), and their neighbour Ruiz (Luis Ziembrowski) impetuously escort the rotten out of town. However, their actions have calamitous consequences as evil sweeps through the village like a contagion. The brothers try to escape ahead of the corruption, but their efforts only bring them closer to having to confront their mistake.

One of the most interesting elements of this possession narrative is the absence of religion from any of the conversations. The demon carries the Devil’s name, but there’s no discussion of exorcisms or using faith to combat the evil. They call upon “cleansers” to properly kill the rotten, but there’s no question of saving their soul. In fact, one character exclaims, “God is dead.” The lack of religious undertones actually frees the characters to handle the possessions more freely, for better or worse. Instead, there are a set of seven rules to follow, though their difficulty sets everyone up for failure — by writer-director Demián Rugna’s design.

Beginning with a nighttime disruption immediately puts everyone on edge, which is compounded by the discovery of its cause in the morning and the reveal of the rotten shortly after. Consequently, the first half of the picture is a very hard-hitting series of events that range from shocking to gruesome, including build-up to a great jump scare. Then the movie shifts gears, becoming quiet and unsettling but still frightful. Rugna skilfully weaves together a ghastly chain of events that chills audiences with its dreadful subtlety. It generates an eerie atmosphere as the evil unleashed by the possessed seeps into everything and viewers anxiously await the next horror, which Rugna delivers with terrible verve.

When Evil Lurks had its world premiere in the Midnight Madness programme at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Read other reviews from the festival.

Director: Demián Rugna
Starring: Ezequiel Rodríguez, Demián Salomón and Luis Ziembrowski

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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