When Evil Lurks

(Demián Rugna, Argentina, 2023)

BY MARGARET BARTON-FUMO | October 30, 2023

The title of Demián Rugna’s new horror opus is something of a misnomer: moving at a swift pace over the course of 99 minutes, When Evil Lurks lurches right into motion rather than lurks. The film hits the ground running, opening with two brothers (Ezequiel Rodríguez and Demián Salomón) who hear gunshots out in the countryside. Following the trail of a mysteriously bisected corpse, Pedro (Rodríguez)—who serves as the ostensible lead in an ensemble cast—and his younger brother, Jimi (Salomón), soon discover what the villagers call a “rotten”: an obscenely bloated, pus-oozing infection of a man, barely conscious in his mother’s house. The brothers quickly surmise that this “rotten” man is demonically possessed and on the verge of releasing a diabolical force upon his imminent death. Afraid of what will happen when the evil spreads, Pedro and Jimi attempt to move the giant, swollen body on a flatbed truck miles away from their village. Unsurprisingly, their efforts are not a success, and a series of disturbing and violent events almost immediately begin to sweep throughout the village and into the nearby town, where Pedro’s ex-wife lives with their two sons and her current husband and their daughter.

While When Evil Lurks does boast some effective scares, the jolt from its pacing coupled with some extreme gore often plays more like a nasty adventure film than creepy horror. There are even elements of dark fantasy and science fiction, as characters use sextants and follow obscure rules to ward off demons, and the action takes place in a world where “rottens” or demonic possessions are near-common occurrences. Overall, When Evil Lurks is quite hectic—it’s gross-out fun, but with a frightening undertone. There is an ever-present sense of impending doom as well as the occasional dread of anticipation that usually precedes a jump scare. Add to that the sickening adrenaline rush instigated by the gore, and the film is off to the races.

Once evil does begin spreading and people start dying, the brothers meet up with the witchy Mirta (Silvina Sabater), who instructs them to locate the original “rotten” so they can dispose of it properly. The team (which now includes Pedro’s sons and mother) splits up, and Pedro and Mirta head to the rural school where the “rotten” is hidden. The location is fitting because, as Mirta says, “Children are drawn to evil, and evil likes children.” What follows is reminiscent of Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s Who Can Kill a Child? (1976), in which kids take over an island and do away with all the adults. Like Ibáñez Serrador, Rugna is not afraid to break the taboo (that still holds strong in the U.S.) of depicting violence against children. Having demonstrated this in an earlier scene, the segment in the school is especially chilling because audiences know what Rugna is capable of showing. Evil kids may be a common trope in horror, but Rugna gives it flair, with young actors who alternate between deceptively sweet and terrifying, spitting blood and covered in powdery white lime. 

The film’s final scare involving Pedro’s autistic teenage son, Jair (Emilio Vodanovich), reverses the roles in one of Grimm’s fairy tales. Transforming a purported innocent into a murderous character, Rugna toys with our discomfort, turning Hansel and Gretel on its head. Rugna is a master at doling out shock, but he also employs the pacing of a haunted-house exhibit, reliably providing scares on a dime. It’s a twisted pleasure to behold, even if it prevents the audience from taking the film seriously and rushes the plot, exposition, and backstory in the process. Rugna is a director of great promise, having improved upon his previous film, the jump scare–heavy Terrified (2017), which also involves a creeping, invisible evil. His command of genre is growing nimble, and When Evil Lurks is his most haunting film yet. Whatever comes next is sure to be a wild and frightening watch. 🩸

Photos courtesy of Shudder and IFC Films

is the host of “No Pussyfooting,” an online radio show on She is the editor of Paul Verhoeven: Interviews (UPM) and has contributed to Film Comment since 2006.

X: @MarBarFu

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