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When Evil Lurks (Cuando Acecha la Maldad)

Argentinean horror offers a "rotten" twist on the well-worn zombie genre, in a movie as mangled and gruelling as the victims portrayed - from the 23rd edition of Tiff Romania


Brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez) and Jimmy (Demian Salomon) live in a sleepy town somewhere in rural Argentina. Their peace is disturbed from the outset, as they find a severely butchered human corpse (roughly everything from the waste up except for half a hand is missing) on the woods. What kind of beast could have done that? They are head towards a remote house inhabited by a mother and her two children. One of them is morbidly obese and bed-bound Uriel (Berta Muñiz), his face oozing pus and his mouth dribbling thick and green saliva. Think of David Fincher’s glutton of Seven (1995), add a few furuncles the size of an apple, and you are halfway there.

The mother is desperate to kill her ailing son, convinced that he is “rotten” or “possessed”, the graphic imagery suggesting that she is probably right. The problem is that he cannot ordinarily murdered (the only way to do so is only revealed at the end of this confusing story). Since the local authorities have decided to turn a blind eye, Pedro and Jimmy decide to lend a hand, with a little help from their friend Ruiz (Luis Ziembrowski). So they take the monstrous man as far as they can on the back on their pickup vehicle, but things go horribly wrong and soon the Uriel is free to spread his infection across the vast flatlands of the South American nation.

When Evil Lurks reclaims the familiar devices of the zombie genre. Instead of ravenous, flesh-munching creatures that must be killed with a shot to the head, the undead here should not be attacked. Their demise would lead to the contamination of the perpetrator. Plus the evil creatures are far more intelligent than your average George Romero demon: they can talk, impersonate the dead, and manipulate the living. And they are attracted by electrical lighting, forcing our heroes to fight them in the dark at candlelight, or with their vehicles headlights switched off. These plots devices barely make sense, in a story where coherence is sacrificed in favour of gore and successive jump scares. This is a movie that doesn’t follow any logical rules, and the script is as messy as the demonic predators. Each “rotten” victim has different powers and behaves differently, for no apparent reason.

Nobody is spared. Pedro’s estranged ex-wife Sabrina (Virginia Garófalo), their two children Santino (Marcelo Michinaux) and Jair (Emilio Vodanovich) and even their dog soon become involved i the imbroglio, and could potentially become a conduit for the evil contagion. Jair is a nonverbal autistic teen, with contorted limbs and unusual body language, making it difficult to decide whether he is a carrier or not. Children, animals and disabled people are all game, in this anarchic and merciless horror gumbo.

The film borrows devices from countless horror movies: horrifically mangled bodies, hair-puking, corpses under floorboards, a satanic children “cult”, and a lot more. It works because the acting, the makeup, the special effects, the photography and the editing are superb. There is no shortage of good DoPs in Argentina, a country with a strong tradition of sombre thrillers and dramas. Rugna’s choice here is Buenos Aires-born cinematographer Mariano Suarez, who can be safely added to this pool of competent artists. This is a movie with very strong production values, and notable ambitions.

A spinoff clarifying the many loose ends would help the story to come full circle. Otherwise Demian Rugna’s fourth feature might be remembered as a mere exercise of abject horror with little substance. Copious amounts of bodily fluid don’t always amount to a scrumptious film dish.

When Evil Lurks shows in the Full Moon section of the 23rd Transilvania International Film Festival (Tiff Romania).

By Victor Fraga - 15-06-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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