WHEN EVIL LURKS (CUANDO ACHECHA LA MALDAD) movie poster | ©2023 IFC Films/Shudder

WHEN EVIL LURKS (CUANDO ACHECHA LA MALDAD) movie poster | ©2023 IFC Films/Shudder

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Ezequiel Rodríguez, Demian Salamón, Silvina Sabater, Luis Ziembrowski, Virginia Garófalo, Emilio Vodanovich, Marcelo Michinaux, Desirée Salguiero, Paula Rubinstein, Federico Liss
Writer: Demian Rugna
Director: Demian Rugna
Distributor: IFC Films/Shudder
Release Date: October 6, 2023 (theatrical); October 27, 2023 (Shudder)

WHEN EVIL LURKS (CUANDO ACHECHA LA MALDAD) is an Argentinian horror film, written and directed by Demian Rugna. As it concerns demonic possession, perhaps October 6 isn’t the best date for it to be released in the U.S., seeing that this is also the release date for THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER. Then again, maybe viewers will want to compare and contrast.

WHEN EVIL LURKS is a curious mixture of some shocking images, good scares, and frustrating subtitles. There’s a sense that some of the storytelling may literally be lost in translation for non-Spanish speakers. Whatever the correct word is for people afflicted by the central demon here, surely it can’t be what we get, which is “rotten.”

Pedro (Ezequiel Rodríguez), a man haunted by his past, and his slightly younger brother Jimi (Demian Salamón) live in a sparsely populated farming community. Every neighbor is a long walk away.

One night, they hear gunshots in the woods. When the brothers go to investigate, they find half of a man’s body, which appears to have been sliced with a blade. Nearby, they also find a case with components for an unknown machine, and a book that has the name and photo of elderly neighbor Maria Elena.

When the brothers go for answers to Maria Elena’s home, she tells them she was expecting “them” to show up and kill her older son Uriel. While Maria Elena is miserable about this, she is not in fear of “them.” Uriel is lying in bed, swollen, covered in sores, and speaking in a way that suggests his humanity may be gone. He’s been like this for over a year. He appears to be possessed.

When the brothers get no help from the police, who simply want to turn the matter over to the health department, they turn to neighbor Ruiz (Luis Ziembrowski). He is furious about the whole matter, as he thinks it’s part of a government plot to steal his land.

When Maria Elena begs the men not to shoot Uriel – apparently guns just make things worse when demons are involved – Ruiz decides the best course of action is to dump the still-living body miles away and enlists Pedro and Jimi to help him. Somewhere along the way, Uriel falls out of, or escapes from, the truck.

As things get more perilous, Pedro decides it’s time to round up his ex-wife Sabrina (Virginia Garófalo) and their young sons (Emilio Vodanovich and Marcelo Michinaux) and leave town. To say that Sabrina is resistant is an understatement.

Some impressively alarming things happen. However, it’s hard for us to grasp the whys and wherefores here, and it’s not clear if this is the film’s storytelling or the translation.

For instance, it’s hard to tell whether possession has gotten common enough for everyone to understand what “rotten” means in this context. In some scenes, it seems clear to all the characters, and in other scenes, they are incredulous.

Also, If the demon has been possessing Uriel for over a year, why are his mother and brother still alive? What is the difference between other people who are possessed and Uriel? Why does it take one character half the film to mention that he knows someone who may have expertise in these situations?

It wouldn’t matter if WHEN EVIL LURKS didn’t roughly follow a quest format, but as it is, we keep wondering what matters, what doesn’t, and whether we understand it. While this is generally Pedro’s experience as well, he at least knows the answers to the above questions, and we don’t.

Animal lovers will be relieved that there is a “no animals were harmed” disclaimer at the film’s end (there’s a sequence that makes us worry). Gore effects are frequent and creepy.

Rodríguez portrays anguish, rage and parental concern with conviction, and Silvina Sabater conveys grim fortitude as a woman who becomes caught up in the action.

WHEN EVIL LURKS is memorably unnerving. How well one actually likes it depends on how well one copes with not being on the same page as the main characters, even when those characters are confused themselves.

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