When Terrified came out in 2018, Demián Rugna quickly established himself as a horror talent to watch. Here was a horror filmmaker with a unique take on the genre. A filmmaker who treated the supernatural as something that existed along side the natural. If Terrified didn’t entirely reinvent the haunted house genre by making hauntings viral, it at least pumped new life into that particular sub-genre. His short in this year’s Satanic Hispanics “También Lo Vi“, about a puzzle solver who accidentally opens a portal to the realm of the dead, was the stand out in that anthology.

Both that short and Terrified showcased a director with a unique brand of magical realist horror. Someone comfortable having the strange exist with the everyday. Now comes Rugna’s latest effort When Evil Lurks, his take on the demonic possession film. Like his previous film, this film doesn’t reinvent the possession sub-genre. It does however show Rugna as director with an authorial voice that can do different kinds of horror films. 

When Evil Lurks center on brothers Pedro and Jimmy, played by Argentinian actors Esquivel Rodriguez and Rugna regular Demián Saloman. The two live and work on a farm far from an unnamed city. One night, they hear gunshots in the woods outside their farm. The two investigate the next morning only to find a man cut in half. Around the dead body is strange equipment and papers. Their investigation leads to the shack occupied by their older female neighbor and her two sons. They enter the shack to find the eldest of the two sons, Uriel, is one of The Rotted; people possessed by demonic spirits. He is a massive bloated and disgusting figure trapped in his bed.

The two consider their options. You can’t kill one of The Rotted by traditional means (i.e. guns) because doing so means the possession will travel to you. The dead body from earlier was a Cleaner, a government figures sent to handle The Rotted. When they go to the authorities about this, they do nothing. That’s a government problem and nothing they handle. The brothers go to the landlord Ruiz. Ruiz decides the only thing to be done is move Uriel far away from here. Unsurprisingly, this decision works out for no one  

Anyone expecting the shadowy horror of Demián Rugna’s previous film Terrified will be in for a shock. When Evil Lurks is a much gorier and grosser affair from the director.  The dead body at the beginning of the film lies in the open. Whoever killed this person, cut them at the waist with the entrails hanging out. The infected Uriel looks like a boil that should have been lanced ages ago, oozing pus and bile. If animal violence is not your thing, be warned there’s a scene with a goat that’s deeply upsetting. A scene at the end with a possessed mother and her child going down the road won’t be easily forgotten.

There’s still some of the shadowy horror of his previous film. Rugna once again proves that he’s capable of getting as much terror as he can out of a negative space. A scene set at night in a school has some of the creepiest kids in a long time. Here though Rugna’s interests lie in the grotesque. It’s exciting to see a director with a mastery of atmospheric horror show the same skill with graphic imagery.

Even with imagery this graphic and upsetting, none of it feels entirely crafted for exploitative shock value. It only serves to demonstrate how twisted this world became because of The Rotted. Like this year’s Skinamarink and Enys Men, the ongoing Covid pandemic serves as inspiration for When Evil Lurks. However, those other films focused on being in isolated worlds. Rugna’s film shows the impact of not changing with a changed world.

Here the police seem unfazed that one of The Rotted could be in their community. That doesn’t happen where they live. That’s a city problem. The Cleaners recognize this problem hasn’t gone away but no one really believes them. One of the things that people know is not to shoot one of The Rotted. Of course various individuals throughout the movie do the opposite and doom themselves. Even Pedro, who throughout the film tries to save his family, fails to recognize the signs of possession which leads to a horrifying climax.  

When Evil Lurks is another excellent film from the Argentinian director Demián Rugna. The film, while being a gruesome possession horror film, is also a clever commentary on the actions of people during a pandemic. There are scenes in this that will burn themselves into viewer’s brains. Rugna doesn’t reinvent the possession horror film here. He just comes at it from a different perspective. Horror films are at their best when directors break rules and then see the consequences of breaking those rules play out all the way through. This film is no exception.

When Evil Lurks is currently streaming on Shudder.